WHEN THE ANGEL OF DEATH COMES CALLING

The irony wasn’t missed on me while doing edits on Freaky Franky, my latest novel that focuses on Santa Muerte, also known as The Angel of Death. One of the fastest rising cults in the world, people worship her for any number of reasons: wealth, health, love, and to come to grips with their mortality and insure safe passage into the afterlife. The irony is this. Finishing up my edits on a novel that has as one of its main themes safe passage into the afterlife, I learned that two dear friends had passed away, one of them tragically and unexpectedly, snatched away at a tender young age; the other not even sixty, who lost a long and burdensome battle with the curse of cancer. The loss of two dear female friends less than two months apart led me to start thinking about my own mortality and how, in my writing and sometimes in my attitude, I flaunt death.

Maybe it was an epiphany of sorts that led me to believe otherwise. Hearing the tragic news, my first response was to stop editing, go into grief mode and begin reflecting on the strange thing called death and my view of it.

After much thought I realized I don’t flaunt death; I just embrace it with some mysterious and ineffable logic that there is an afterlife and that I will pass into this pastoral and peaceful place when my time on Earth is done. This knowledge isn’t based on a subscription to any institutionalized religion but rather on a largely undefined sense of spirituality.

Something else happened during this reflection. The feeling of grief and mourning that had initially swept over me was suddenly replaced by a sense of peace and tranquility and a profound yet inexplicable knowledge that my two friends had passed safely and contentedly into the afterlife. I could actually feel their spirits hovering above me, telling me almost telepathically that I shouldn’t be mourning their deaths. I should be celebrating their lives, and I should be happy that they are now in much better places.

It made me think of Saint Death, and how the mysterious saint brings followers happiness on Earth and happiness in the afterlife. I began to realize that Freaky Franky is much more than a grim story about death. It’s also a celebration of life and an exploration of the moral conduct necessary to achieve safe passage into the afterlife. After learning of the news, I flew to Calgary to attend celebration of life services and parties and to console and provide moral support to surviving family and friends of the deceased. Obviously production of Freaky Franky was delayed. Now entering my last round of edits, I hope that my recent first-hand experiences with death will help make the novel more powerful than I believe it already is.

Without any further adieu, I enclose some teaser chapters for your enjoyment. Watch for Freaky Franky coming soon to Amazon. Enjoy and thanks for reading.

 

                                                FREAKY FRANKY PROLOGUE

I’m sick of being poor. Estella Mendoza peered out the misshapen window of her ramshackle home on the outskirts of the small city of Nacozari, Sonora, Mexico. All she saw was a barren and scorched landscape, the sun setting in the distant and bleak horizon. Her stomach was knotted by more than just hunger pangs. A sense of frustration and hopelessness was giving birth to a sense of desperation. A fly buzzed around her head and landed on her middle-aged cheek, leathered, lined and senescent by the cruelty of Mother Nature. Time had not been kind to her. With her right hand, she smacked her face hard, squashing the pesky fly and smearing its blood and guts across her face and hand.

“Got you, you son of a bitch,” she said in Spanish, wiping her palm on the knee of her dirt-stained, torn and weathered jeans. She ignored the fly remains on her cheek, moving away from the screenless and paneless window and rummaging through dusty cupboards for a morsel of food. Nothing. A grease-stained dented fridge door hung open, a small bowl of rice the only thing resembling nourishment on the otherwise empty shelves. Flies circled the rice, at times dive-bombing in for a small stale snack. Bending down, she reached inside, waved the flies away and picked up the small bowl. Looking around the cluttered kitchen counter, she found a dirty spoon, wiped it on her oversized and dirty white t-shirt and, sidestepping debris littering the dirt floor, walked over to a green plastic lawn chair, weathered by the elements and cracking in various spots.

As she sat down, a brittle leg snapped, catapulting her headfirst into a wooden wall. The rice bowl flew out of her hands, shattering against the wall and showering her head with rice and shards of glazed earthenware. She hit the ground ass-first and groaned. “You son of a bitch.” Dazed, she rubbed a small goose egg beginning to sprout on her forehead. Realizing she still clutched the spoon, she flushed and flung it against the door. With a metallic clang, it bounced off the door and skipped along the floor, stopping a few inches from her outstretched feet. Her face tightened and she reached for it, with the intention of throwing it clear out the window.

A knock on the door stopped the arc of her arm. “Who is it?”

From the other side. “It’s me,” the female voice said in Spanish. “Are you busy?”

Estella recognized the voice. Alejandra Rivera, her friend for over twenty years. Alejandra lived a few blocks away and in Estella’s view had everything. A middle-class home, a wonderful working husband, and a ten-year-old devoted and well-behaved son. Where Estella had famine, poverty and despair, Alexandra had an abundant food supply, an income stream, love and hope. Poison tentacles of jealousy and resentment coursed through her dazed mind. “What do you want?”

“I brought you refried beans. And rice.”

Estella slowly got to her feet. “Come in”

The door opened and Alexandra entered. “What happened?” she asked, concern furrowing her brow as she examined Estella and the accident scene.

Estella pointed to the shattered remains of the plastic chair leg. “It broke and sent me flying.”

“I’m sorry,” Alexandra said, putting the white bowl of beans and rice on a cluttered kitchen table and rushing to her friend’s aid.  She escorted her to a nearby wooden chair, looking slightly less dangerous than the offending plastic one, and sat her down. The chair creaked and groaned, but held.

Alexandra produced a plastic spoon from a blue apron attached to her white dress and handed it to Estella. “Eat. It’ll do you good.”

Estella peeled the plastic wrap from the spoon, tossed it on the floor apathetically, and stabbed it into the food. A wave of dizziness swept over her and she waited a moment for her head to clear before digging in, quickly shoveling three spoonfuls into her mouth and swallowing them without hardly chewing.

Alexandra looked at the bump on Estella’s head and searched her friend’s eyes concernedly. “Are you okay?”

Between mouthfuls, Estella said, “Yeah, just a little bump.”

“Well, be careful.” As Estella ate, Alexandra approached the kitchen counter and began busily cleaning up, rifling food wrappings into a nearby wastebasket, and neatly piling dirty dishes next to the sink. It wasn’t the first time she’d helped her starving friend by bringing her food and cleaning her humble abode.

“You don’t have to do that.”

Alexandra spun around and looked at Estella cheerily. “It’s not a problem. And, look at you, you’re in no shape to do it right now.” She resumed cleaning, turning her back to Estella.

A blind rage—a dark and hateful energy—seethed through Estella’s veins. My chance. Now’s my chance. Before she even realized what she was doing, she leapt from the chair with a vitality and vigor she never knew she possessed, grabbed a hatchet and rushed toward Alexandra. As she swung the hatchet, Alexandra turned around, dropped her jaw in shock and horror and looked at Estella with fear-filled brown eyes.

The hatchet sliced into Alexandra’s throat, blood spraying Estella’s face and body. Two more swings and she chopped her head clean off. Alexandra’s decapitated head dropped to the floor, rolled along it, bumped into the front door and stopped. Almost as if she was pursuing her head, Alexandra’s headless body convulsed and, spewing blood like a life-giving lawn sprinkler, staggered to the door, crashed into it and slumped to the ground, outstretched hands frantically reaching for her head for a second or two before growing still.

Estella put the hatchet on the now uncluttered kitchen counter, wiped her bloody face with a soiled dishrag, sat down at the kitchen table and continued eating. Perfunctorily she glanced at the lifeless head and body of her one-time friend. “By the way, thanks for the food.”

Two hours later, when the night had blanketed the day, clutching Alexandra’s head in both hands, she danced around a small skeleton statue, sprinkling blood on and around the shrine. Satisfied with her efforts, she placed the head next to the statue, lit a candle and placed it next to the skeleton. She knelt down and began praying for abundance. In the suffused candlelight, the skeleton saint’s hollow eye sockets glittered and glowed. Its grin seemed to mock her efforts and she realized there was more work to be done.

In the month that followed, Estella beheaded two ten-year-old boys, one of them her grandson, and sacrificed their blood to the skeleton saint. At the end of that month, she was convinced she had finally bought the favor of her Goddess. On that day the police raided her home and discovered the bodies of all three victims buried beneath her dirt floor. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, showed no remorse for the killings, and authorities labelled her a serial killer.

 

                                                  CHAPTER ONE

“I’m sorry, he’s dying.”

Anisa Worthington put both hands to her face and knelt down on the floor next to the bed. She spread two fingers and peered at her five-year-old son Connor, watching his labored breathing as his face flushed as red as the satin bedspread covering his sweating body. He had closed his eyes and appeared to have drifted off into sleep, or a coma. A lone tear snaked down her cheek and she brushed it away with a hand, suddenly turning to the doctor standing behind her, his brow furrowed with worry wrinkles.

“He can’t be dying. He was healthy three hours ago.”

“That was three hours ago,” Doctor Manuel Ricardo said. “I’ve checked his vitals repeatedly. His systems are shutting down. His heart rate is sporadic. He’s not getting enough oxygen to the brain. We need to get him to a hospital, and fast.”

“No hospitals.” They had been down that path before, soon after the doctor had rushed to the scene. Anisa had adamantly refused to have her ailing son taken to the hospital. Not long ago, her friend Melissa had died in the hospital after a heart surgery had gone awry. The heart surgery was apparently a success, but the towel left inside Melissa’s chest cavity was not. It had caused an infection that ultimately resulted in her untimely death. There was still a lawsuit pending. No hospitals. Definitely no hospitals.

Connor precipitously jerked, arched his back and clutched Anisa’s wrist. His sea-blue tear-filled eyes bored into hers, pleading. “Help me, Mommy. What’s happening to me?”

Earlier Connor had been outside playing in the large garden surrounding the small bungalow in Montague, Prince Edward Island. He had left the house as chipper as usual, excited about the prospect of getting outside on this sunny June day, the first day of summer. He played happily on the grass, somersaulting around, at one point leaping up and chasing a butterfly, even making funny faces that almost made his mother laugh. Then everything went wrong. He disappeared into the tree-line for a few minutes and suddenly emerged panting and puffing, as red as a beet and breathing so labored it appeared as if he was on the verge of massive cardiac arrest.

Why do I hate the first day of summer? Why do I hate all the seasons? Anisa put a comforting hand on his chest. “You’re gonna be fine, honey. It’s probably just an allergic reaction from something in the forest.”

His breathing became more labored. He released his mother’s wrist and slumped back into the bed. His panicked expression slowly morphed into a strange resigned dread.

Anisa stood and swung around to face Doctor Ricardo. Her hands were twitching, her face now wet with fresh tears. “Do something. You’re the doctor. Fix him for God’s sake.”

Doctor Ricardo moved in with his stethoscope and began listening to the erratic heartbeat. Connor’s eyes had closed again and his head tilted toward the bedside window, where a spear of light poked in, illuminating what appeared to be a yellow scythe swiping across the child’s throat.

Doctor Ricardo’s eyes bulged with recognition and he leaped back, turning to Anisa and wrapping his big arms around her in a bear hug, squeezing the breath from her lungs. “Santa Muerte… Santa Muerte.”

He finally released her. She gasped for breath, mirroring her son’s failing attempts to live. “What did you say? What is Santa Muerte?”

“Not what, who? Santa Muerte is Saint Death, or holy death. She is the personification of death. But she is also a great healer of many ailments. I believe she can save your son.”

Before Anisa could respond, Doctor Ricardo rushed from the bedroom.

Anisa rushed to the window and watched him snap open the trunk of his Audi Quattro, fumble around for a moment and then carefully lift a small statue—perhaps two feet tall—of a skeleton draped in a red tunic. He also removed a purple jar candle, tucking it into his jacket pocket. As he walked swiftly toward the house, she noticed the black scythe in the skeleton saint’s outstretched left hand, a small globe of the world clutched firmly in its right. What the hell is this? The grim reapress?

Inside the bedroom, Doctor Ricardo placed the statue on a bedside table. He placed the candle in front of the grinning statue and lit it. Flickering flames cast jagged yellow lines across its hollow black eye sockets.

“What’s with the purple candle?” she asked, clasping her hands together in an attempt to contain her nervousness.

“It’s the votive candle for supernatural healing and health.”

“Do you think it’s gonna work? I don’t believe in hocus-pocus.”

Doctor Ricardo’s face tightened. “Of course it’ll work. It always does. Please don’t use blasphemous words around this all-powerful saint. She might get angry.”

“I’ll be angry if it doesn’t work.”

“Calm down. “Do you have any tequila?”

Fear and panic coursed through Anisa’s body, an unstoppable debilitating tide. She clenched her hands tighter as the color drained from her face. A wave of dizziness washed over her. Her vision blurred. She put her hand on the wall. Don’t pass out. Connor needs you. “No.”

“Do you have any alcohol at all? To petition Santa Muerte to save your son we need an offering.”

“Rum.”

“Go get it quickly. And bring three glasses.”

Connor opened his eyes, turned to them, and started convulsing, spittle spraying from his mouth like a tiny erupting geyser, a grim picture of a boy who looked like he was possessed by a demon.

Turning to Connor, Anisa froze, finally overcome.

“Not now,” the doctor said. “Bring the rum.”

She stood motionless, now chalky white.

Doctor Ricardo shook her violently. “Don’t go catatonic. Get the booze. Now!”

Her eyes slowly focused on the man in front of her, deep concern etched into sharp gray eyes. Snapping out of the panic and fear-induced catatonia, she rushed from the room and returned quickly with a bottle of Bacardi white rum and three glasses. She set the glasses on the makeshift alter to Santa Muerte. Doctor Ricardo took the bottle and splashed a little rum into the skeleton’s face. He then filled all three glasses. He picked two up, leaving the bottle and a glass of rum on the shrine in front of the Skinny Lady. He offered a glass to Anisa. With an unsteady hand she took it.

“Drink it,” he said.

Connor’s convulsions became more violent. “Mooommmmy! Help me!”

Doctor Ricardo raised his glass to Anisa. “Drink.”

They clinked glasses and took large swills. He took her glass, set it on the alter, gently took her arm and pulled her down to a kneeling position in front of Saint Death. “I need you to pray with me. I need you to believe.”

She studied her son. Getting worse. She looked at Doctor Ricardo. “O… Okay.”

He clasped his hands in prayer, turned to the statue, bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Repeat after me, okay?”

Anisa did the same. “O… okay.”

“Most Holy Death, protector and restorer of bodily ailments.”

In a voice suddenly soft and calm, she repeated his words.

He continued. “Angel of death. Angel of life, whom our Father created to help and serve. I implore and beseech you to restore the life and health of Connor Worthington. May he live long and may his body and mind recover fully its youthful energy and vigor…”

Anisa repeated his words, her tone now pleading.

The child’s movements grew less frantic. But he still twitched slightly.

Outside, a gray bank of clouds descended over the house and it began to rain, torrential.

Thunder rumbled from the heavens. A fork of lightning cracked from the sky, struck the ground and exploded, fanning out mounds of red PEI dirt.

The boy’s convulsions slowed, stopped. He dropped his arms to his sides, splayed his legs out on the bed, lifeless. He closed his eyes. His expression grew calm.

Anisa stopped praying. She opened her eyes, glanced out the window at the torrential rain, saw the mound of dirt exploding into the air a few feet away and slowly looked at Connor, his deathly stillness unnerving her once again.

Doctor Ricardo opened his eyes and followed her gaze. He touched her arm. “Please, we must finish the prayer.”

Against her better judgment, she continued praying.

Once again, he continued. “I implore you, Most Holy Death, restore Connor’s health. For the sake of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to save our sins, answer our pleas and bring him back. Amen.”

“Amen,” Anisa said. She opened her eyes and turned to Conner. Both hands were crossed on his chest, over his heart. His expression was calm and serene. His breathing was no longer labored.

He had stopped breathing.

Screaming bloody murder, Anisa sprang to her feet and rushed out of the room.

Doctor Ricardo heard the front door slam as the echoes of her grief-stricken screams were swallowed up by the old house.

He knocked back his glass of rum, bowed his head, and calmly continued praying to the saint of death.

 

                                                          CHAPTER TWO

Cofresi Beach, Dominican Republic, Sunday, 1:36 am. In the black of night, a million stars twinkling in the sky under the ominous glow of a full moon, waves lapped gently on the shore. The beach along the shore was quiet and still, the surrounding grassy park strewn with empty rum bottles, beer bottles and other debris. A motorcycle roared down the two-lane street fronting the beach, cracking the silence with the loud thumping sound of a broken muffler. Six small dogs dashed out from a two-storey oceanfront apartment building, barking furiously. Two of them gave chase. The male driver kicked at the attacking canines as he slowed and they ceased their scare tactics and grew silent, retreating to the security of the apartment building front parking lot. A light went on in a main-floor apartment behind them. A sliding-glass door squeaked open and a dark-skinned thin man, wearing only white underwear, staggered out, a half-full rum bottle in his left hand. He shouted obscenities in Spanish at the dogs and they scattered. Then he face-planted the concrete parking lot, smashing his head hard. A tiny river of dark red blood poured out of his injured head, zig-zagging a path to the road. A small black mangy, mixed-breed dog returned, stopped at the man’s head, and began slurping up the red river. A Chihuahua hopped up—favoring its injured left hind leg—to survey the scene, sniffed at the blood, barked twice and hobbled down the street. Its barks slowly faded into the night.

A six-seater white motorized golf cart, also with a broken muffler—splitting the silence like thunder—roared up and skidded to a stop. It was occupied by four tourists, drinks in hand, laughing and slurring.

Seeing the fallen man, a fat man climbed out of the driver’s seat, promptly dropped his drink-filled plastic cup, splattering its contents on the road, and turned to the others. “We gotta help him.”

A woman with a cackling voice said, “Holy shit. That dog’s drinking human blood.”

“We gotta help him,” the man repeated.

“Screw that. He might have AIDS or something. We don’t know who he is.”

But the man ignored her. He staggered up to the face-planted man, knelt down, and hoisted him up, the half-full rum bottle still clinging to his blood-drenched hand. The dog that had been drinking fresh warm blood reared back and barked three times threateningly. The fat man kicked it in the ribs, not too hard, but not too soft either. It yelped, turned and ran down the street.

Dragging the bleeding man like a rag doll, the man leaned him against a white four-door sedan and slapped him gently in the face. “Are you okay? Wake up.”

“Let’s go Herman,” Cackling Voice said. “I wanna get to Ocean World casino.” The other couple occupying the back seats of the golf cart sat watching in stunned silence.

The bleeding man opened his eyes, muttered something incomprehensible, and closed them again. With one hand, Herman propped the accident victim’s head up. “Wake up.”

The bleeding man opened his eyes. “Al… Alfredo.”

“Is that your name?” Herman asked.

Afredo nodded.

A white and blue cop truck rolled down the street and stopped in front of the scene. Flashing red lights illuminated the neighborhood. As two Dominican cops got out, a young Dominican woman wearing a pink low-cut blouse, red hot pants and impossibly high heels ambled past, led by her flashing smartphone. She glanced briefly at Alfredo and Herman and the two cops then, click-clacking past, quickly refocused on the drama contained inside her smartphone, electronic virtual reality taking precedence over real-life drama.

Some conversation and pointing ensued. Herman peeled off his white t-shirt, Trust In Guns emblazoned on the front in black, and handed it to one of the cops, a tall lanky man, unsteady on his feet. Lanky Cop wrapped it around Alfredo’s bleeding head. It took only a moment for them to help Alfredo, now slipping in and out of consciousness, his hand still clutching the rum bottle, into the back seat of the truck. Before they pulled away, Lanky Cop, eyeballing Herman inquisitively, stuck his hand out the window, rubbing his belly with the other hand. Herman produced a US twenty dollar bill and handed it to Lanky Cop. He grinned, rolled up the window and sped away.

As Herman climbed into the golf cart, Cackling Voice said, “What are you doing giving the cops money? They’re all fucking corrupt around here. You gotta pay for saving someone’s life.”

Herman nodded. “Where’s the rum?”

“Oh no,” Cackling Voice said. “Turn this thing around and go back to Lifestyles hotel. We gotta get you cleaned up first. You’re full of blood. And no shirt.”

The golf cart U-turned and sped away, the metallic rattling sound of the ruptured exhaust pipe fading in the distance.

But for the gentle lapping of waves, silence once again prevailed.

Blackness enveloped the night, illuminated faintly by the moonlight and stars.

Behind and above the blood-stained parking lot, a light flashed on in a second-floor apartment, directly above the suite in which unfortunate Alfredo had emerged.

Franklin Reimer slid the balcony door open and stepped out. For the last five minutes, wrapped in the protective cloak of darkness, he’d been watching the scene below with unbridled glee. He rubbed his clean-shaven chin, rolled his hand across his six-pack stomach muscles and studied the blood stream below, marveling at how it glistened diamond-like in the glint of the moon. Looking down at his bare foot, his rapture was swept out to sea in the receding waves. Franklin tensed, veins swelling in his neck and forehead. He had stepped in fresh, steamy-warm dog shit. That wasn’t the first time. Nor would it be the last. As long as Alfredo kept collecting (he called it rescuing) street dogs, which he couldn’t afford to feed or properly care for, Franklin’s upper balcony would continue to be a mine field of doggy dung. The dogs wouldn’t shit on Alfredo’s balcony. Oh no. Don’t do-do on the hand that feeds you, or at least not on the hand that tries to feed you.

“You fucking piece of shit,” Franklin said, referring to Alfredo, but bending down and scooping up a handful of the moist fecal matter, “I hope you fucking die from that concussion.” With lightning speed, he dashed down the stairs and, using the handful of feces as a crude writing instrument, scrawled FUCK YOU on Alfredo’s sliding-glass window in large capital letters. Examining his artistic (at least to him) handiwork, his frown slowly morphed into a grin, highlighted with perfectly aligned white teeth. He swung around, took a few paces and picked up a small garden hose lying next to a steel cage draped with brown shower curtains. An outdoor shower caretaker Niamia Fernandez had fashioned, renting it out to beachgoers for fifty pesos a pop on the weekends when hundreds of partiers, locals and foreigners alike, descended on the beach, often playing unbearably loud and awful music and getting merrily pie-eyed and out of control. Fucking stupid bitch, Franklin thought as he washed the crap from his hands and then trained the nozzle on his shit-stained foot. She’s a piece of shit. She’s just a fucking caretaker here and gets free rent for that. But that’s not enough for her. Working every angle she can to make a buck, all behind the owner’s back. Using their water, that they pay for, and making a business out of it.

Franklin had a point. The makeshift beach shower was one of many of Niamia’s business ventures. During the day, and sometimes even during evening hours, there was a steady stream of people calling for her. She sold sandwiches, tourist trinkets from a makeshift shack in front of the apartment building, after-hours alcohol and cigarettes She’d even hired a Haitian man to rent out parking stalls (ostensibly belonging to tenants of the six-suite apartment building) during the busy weekends. Franklin couldn’t even remember how many times he’d blasted Niamia and the Haitian for renting out his parking stall to beach-goers during his absence. And each time, he was met with the same calm response. “Sorry about that. I won’t do it again. I promise.” But each weekend, either from his balcony, or returning home from a sex-filled evening of debauchery, he would see the dark Haitian, standing in the middle of the road, waving in oncoming traffic with a smile while Niamia stood or had her fat ass parked nearby, smiling, as calm as a glassy sea, counting her coins, thinking up new ways to exploit the property, exploit the property owners, exploit the foreigners. Franklin had counted sixteen business ventures that she ran from the comfort of her tiny main-floor, rent-free, apartment. But he knew he had missed a few, knew there were more and there would be more. Fuck it. Forget about her for now. She’s next, but not now.

He rinsed his foot clean, tossed the hose haphazardly on the pock-marked lawn, turned it off and made his way back up to his apartment. What a fucking gong show around here. Insane asylum, this building. I hate this country. Stepping inside his living room, he slid the door closed, flicked the light off and sank into the plush brown sofa. He reached for a fresh black votive candle, a symbol for protection, vengeance and death in the cult worship of Santa Muerte. He lit it with a match and placed it in front of a two-foot high skeleton statue, cloaked in black and gripping a silver scythe that glinted in the candle’s glow. He studied the skeleton saint’s hollow black eye sockets, her mocking grin that seemed to widen with the flickering of the candle. It took a few minutes of closed-eyed silence before Franklin felt calm enough to continue. He shouldn’t be angry. Shouldn’t be disappointed. Shouldn’t be sad. After all, Santa Muerte had answered at least part of his prayer of last night. Wishing to rid the building of its insane inhabitants, he’d prayed to the saint of death for the untimely death of Alfredo. And he had watched and snickered as he watched Alfredo slam his stupid head into concrete and bleed like a stuck pig. It was true he seemed somewhat alive as the cops had driven off with him. But that didn’t mean he would last the night. Maybe he would slip into a coma overnight and die. Maybe he would even die before he arrived at a hospital. That’s it, think positive. Now was not the time for negative emotion. It was a time to give thanks to Santa Muerte for answering his prayer.

He picked up the bottle of Brugal Anejo rum he had placed beside the ominously glowing statue and replenished the powerful saint’s empty glass. Then he closed his black eyes, and began praying. “Oh Holy Death, Sacred Death, Saint Death, thank you for answering my prayers. Thank you for causing the head injury to Alfredo. I pray that you finish the job. Saint of all saints, I am deeply in your debt. Amen.”

On a whim, he picked up the bottle of rum. Franklin was not much of a drinker, prided himself on never getting drunk in the three years he had lived in the DR, but surely a little nip wouldn’t hurt now. It’s what Saint Death would want. They now had a contract. She had done his bidding, or at least part of it, and she would want something in return. He was prepared to do anything she asked of him.

As well, this was a time for celebration, a time for rejoicing, a time to join with the venerated saint in the revelry that surely must accompany the answering of a prayer, the very first time he had ever asked the Skinny Lady for anything. And she had delivered. Delivered in spades. Well, maybe in hearts, meaning Alfredo’s heart would be returned to a stillness richly deserved, returned to its final destination. Franklin allowed himself a long swill on the bottle—swallowing a good four ounces of the potent rum—enjoying the stinging sensation in his esophagus as it settled into his stomach. A pleasant buzz slowly began to envelop and dull his senses.

He closed his eyes, shut his mouth, and sank into the plush couch, allowing his mind to wander, drifting back to a happier time, a time when his psyche wasn’t constantly engaged in a tumultuous battle between the forces of good and evil. But try as he might, the panoptic tragedy of his early life pervaded his troubled mind.

Growing up in small-town Montague, PEI, Franklin was the youngest son in a family of two brothers, Caleb and Nelson, and one sister, Anisa. He had a healthy relationship and a close bond with his brothers and sister. His father Cole was a dedicated husband, a good man, and a hard-working fisherman. His mother Marina was a consummate caregiver with the children and a devoted and loving wife. A Catholic, God-fearing, church-going family. Picture perfect. Or so it should have been. When he was only eight, and he was thirty-four now, his father died at sea, the victim of a tragic and ferocious storm that plunged the fishing vessel and his father into the depths of the ocean, never to be recovered.

Franklin was close to Cole, a favorite son actually, although Cole would never admit it. After his father’s death, Franklin went on a voluntary hunger strike, refusing to leave his bedroom, except for Mother Nature’s callings, for almost three weeks. Finally when he was as thin as a rail, and sick as a dog, it was his older brother Caleb who had convinced him to eat. “It’s what daddy would’ve wanted, brother. He would’ve wanted you to be happy and healthy. Please, eat something. Snap out of this or Mom will have you committed to a care facility for your own good.”

Three years later the tsunami wave of tragedy swelled and unleashed its fury. On a bright sunny day, Caleb and Franklin were playing soccer on the expansive front lawn. Franklin guarded a net improvised with old tires and Caleb kicked the ball. Franklin dove but missed. The ball went through the goal posts and bounced across the lawn toward the two-lane highway.

“You get it Franky,” Caleb said.

But Franklin had become frustrated chasing balls. It was the third goal in three shots. “I’m tired. You get it for a change.”

“Suit yourself.” Before Franklin could change his mind, Caleb raced after the ball. As it bounced into the middle of the highway, he reached it. As he collected it in both hands, he spun around, ready to return. But it was too late. A speeding pickup truck driven by an impaired driver hit him square on, catapulting him airborne for thirty feet, before he smashed into asphalt, dead on impact. Franklin never got over the guilt. It should have been me. Should have been me.

Exactly three years later the tsunami waved of destruction reared its devastating head again, unleashing another wave of tragedy. Franklin’s eldest brother Nelson was out in the garage, repairing a 1971 Mustang Shelby Cobra convertible. Nelson was underneath the vehicle, installing a right front shock absorber when Franklin entered the garage. All tires had been removed and the car perched precariously on four metal jacks.

“Adjust that right side jack will you bro,” Nelson said as Franklin, down on all fours, watched his brother work. “It needs to go up a notch.”

Franklin had never been mechanically inclined. “What do I do?”

Nelson pointed. “Just take that red handle, stick it in there and pump it up a bit. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

“Don’t you want to slide out first?”

“No, no, it’s secure. Hurry I’m dying under here. Hardly any room. My shoulder’s killing me”

Franklin moved around to the front right side of the vehicle and picked up a small red hollow pipe.

“In there, “Nelson said, pointing.

“Okay.” Franklin put the handle in place and began cranking. The vehicle began to rise.

“Almost,” Nelson said. “Another inch or so.”

Franklin continued cranking.

“Right there is good.”

“Okay.” As Franklin got to his feet, he heard a whooshing sound. The hydraulic jack sprayed oil on his brother’s face and, with lightning speed, descended and tipped over, sending the front axle crashing onto Nelson’s neck, snapping it with a horrifying pop and killing him instantly.

A police investigation ruled the death an accident and Franklin was cleared of any wrongdoing. But the Poison Ivy tentacles of guilt ravaged him mercilessly from the inside out. He leaned back into the couch, opened his eyes slowly and took another swill of rum, hoping to dull the pain of his tragic past. He wanted desperately to escape the grim images haunting his mind day and night—especially at night. He gazed at the face of Saint Death, studied her menacing grin. Lit intermittently yellow-orange by the flickering candle flame, it seemed to mock his descent into his tragic past.

With a mountainous effort, he willed his mind away from the three horrifying deaths, although they had changed his life irrevocably—No, nothing is forever—and plummeted him into sociopathic tendencies. No, I’m not crazy, everyone around me is. Suddenly restless, he got up, strode through the dungeon-like quarters—most of the windows were sealed with tinfoil and a thick black blanket covered the sliding-glass door apartment entrance—pulled aside the makeshift curtain, and studied the dark street below. Studied the snake-like stream left by Alfredo’s blood. A motorcycle roared past, its headlights momentarily bathing Alfredo’s blood in a twinkling silver glow. Franklin scratched his black head stubble and a grin slowly replaced the frown. Alfredo, that little shit, is gonna die. Saint Death answered my prayer.

As he returned to the sofa, now relishing his third glass of rum, the grief was once again replaced by glee. As he commenced another prayer, the dark irony of his situation was missed on Franklin. As a die-hard Christian, in his youth, he had prayed for the resurrection of his siblings. Prayed for life.

Now, he prayed exclusively for death.

 

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