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Olley

 

 

The Curandera
Follows the Chase a Wild Horse episode

Chapter One

 

Scott found me sat crossed-legged on the ground looking out across the valley towards our home. Yeah, it’s not just the hacienda; now I see it as our home.

“The most beautiful place in the whole world,” I repeated Teresa’s words from that first day as he dismounted and stepped up to me.

It had only been a week since my brother had taken a bullet from the Stryker gang. I had felt bad about that but when I had tried to apologise he grinned and said there was nothing for me to apologise for. Here he is back at work, checking up on me. He’s a lot tougher than I first gave him credit for and I know we are good.

“What are you doing, Johnny?”

I pushed my hat back to hang by the storm strings and stayed staring ahead. “Counting all those blades of grass Murdoch cares so much about.”

He joined me to enjoy the view of the hacienda, our home, glowing white in the late afternoon sunshine. The mountain range in the distance blue, a glimpse of water sparkling in the creeks and the grass still green. “Murdoch has told me despite Pardee and Stryker, we have had a lucky break with no drought, and healthy cattle.”

My head went down as I played with the beads around my wrist.  “Do you believe in luck, Scott?”

“Up to a point. Why?”

“Well, if you believe in luck you must believe in the opposite. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“That would be Newton’s theory: for every action, there is a reaction.”

That’s my brother always trying to educate me. I waved my hand towards the scene in front of us. “Murdoch may have had his share of luck with the land and cattle but he sure had none with his wives.”

I got up, not waiting for a reply “Come on. We don’t want to be hollered at for not following the order to be on time for dinner.”

 

Chapter Two

The next day Scott caught up with me and my crew on the Azul creek road. “Hey Johnny, how was your day?” he grinned as his eyes focused on the tear in my shirt sleeve.

I fingered the hole. “Me an’ Barranca was helping pull some brush out’ ta the creek. Just caught up in a thorn is all.”

We slowed down to let the crew ride ahead so we could talk without being overheard.

“I was thinking—you and I could go into Green River tomorrow night, meet up with Val, have a drink, play poker, perhaps make a night of it?” He raised an eyebrow as I glanced at him, then turned to face forward, pulling his hat low.

The silence stretched as our horses walked, their heads nodding in unison.

“Did Murdoch ever show you our Spanish land grant?”  I knew he would be looking at me with that Murdoch look of his, taken by surprise at my question.

“Why yes. It was when you were recovering from Pardee’s bullet. I must admit I cannot read much Spanish and most of the words I have learned are perhaps not the sort you find in a legal document.”

I laughed. “And not in polite society either.”  I let a sigh escape. “It’s all legal, Scott, and registered, even if it is in Spanish.” I frowned at my hands resting on the pommel. “Seems the land and hacienda were once owned by a family named Alvarez. The last Don didn’t manage to produce an heir and the estancia was abandoned until Murdoch and your Mama came out here, bought it, and took on being the Don and Dona Lancer.”

“You summarised what Murdoch told me very succinctly. He also told me the hacienda was in a very run-down state, and how much work my mother put in to make some rooms habitable.  I can only imagine what Grandfather would have said about his daughter getting her hands dirty.”

Succinctly. There’s another of his educated words I’ll have to look up sometime.

I sighed. “Thing is, Scott, this place was cursed by a bruja back in Don Alvarez’s day.”

 

Chapter Three

I trotted ahead, giving him time to collect his thoughts.

 Barranca was enjoying my combing his mane when he led his horse into the barn.  “You had a chance to think on what I told you?  It’s okay, I don’t expect you to take such old superstitions seriously.”

“But you do, and I trust your instincts.” He looked over my horse at me.

“You gotta understand, where I grew up folks went to the mission and listened to the Padre on Sundays and holy days, but for medicines, potions and charms they went to a curandera.”

Before he could ask I moved around to take his saddle, “A curandera is usually a wise woman who knows all about herbs and cures, but some can also be a bruja, a sort of witch. And a bruja can put curses on your enemies.”

“I need to ask Johnny, regardless of whether or not I personally believe in witchcraft, how do you know the Alvarezes were cursed?”

I turned away to hang his saddle on the rack. “There are still folks living hereabouts who know of the times when California was part of Mexico and the Alvarez family were the landowners.” I turned to look at him face to face. “The tale is the curse wasn’t just on that family. It was on the hacienda.”

“Who are these folks telling you this take, can you trust them?”

“During the days when I was recovering from ol’e Day back shooting me, I sat with old Senor Augusto Carlos. It was him who told me of the curse of the La polilla negra having been cast on the hacienda. He hadn’t meant any harm, just an old fella, happy to have company who would listen to his stories while we repaired tack.”

Scott frowned. “He is a relative of Senor Caspar who Pardee killed isn’t he? And what is the polilla negra?”

“Yes, he was born on Lancer, seen a lot in his lifetime, doesn’t speak much English. Anyways at the time, I put talk of black moths and butterflies bringing bad luck down to old gossip. But recently a couple of the vaqueros have come telling me there has been talk in Morro Coyo of Lancer being cursed and a festival to be held when the curse will be lifted.”

“Oh, come on, Johnny, it must be more than 35 years since this alleged curse was made.”

“I know Scott, I know.” I shrugged and offered a lop-sided grin. “Take no notice, just me being a darn tonto.”

“That’s a fool, and yes sometimes you are foolish. But if someone is putting rumours around that Lancer is cursed, Murdoch and I need to know.”

I tilted my head and gave that some thought. “You thinking it may be some kind of sneaky campaign against us?”

“Well, that makes more sense to me than tales of brujas and curses.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “Let us get cleaned up and have dinner, then over a civilised drink talk to Murdoch.”

*****

I followed Scott into our home to see Teresa laughing and skipping around the great room. I took a step back to the door and glanced around. “Whoa, Teresa, what has happened?”

Teresa bounced up and hugged me and then Scott. “I am going to visit the Barkleys.  Mrs Barkley has written and invited me to accompany her and Audra to San Francisco to attend a ballet performance.”

Scott acted all delighted. “A ballet performance! How wonderful for you. How are you getting to Stockton?” He looked over at Murdoch.

Murdoch was smiling. “I shall be escorting Teresa to Stockton and take the opportunity to visit with Leyland Stanford who will be in town.” His expression as he glanced from Scott to me transformed from the gentle patriarch to the stern patron. “I trust you two to be in charge for the next five days.  We shall discuss what needs to be done after dinner.”

I muttered under my breath,  “In charge uhh? Following orders, more like.”

Scott elbowed me to shut up and inclined his head towards the stairs. “We shall be cleaned up and down for dinner in no time; then Teresa can tell us all about this visit.”

It was a lively meal, Teresa aglow with excitement at the prospect of staying with the Barkley family and then a visit to San Francisco. She was to be away for almost a month.

I relaxed, thankful I wasn’t having to go to Stockton. I teased her about not being too friendly with boys, asking her who was going to mend my torn shirts and sort my socks?

After Teresa had retired Murdoch had not once but twice gone over the orders we were expected to follow during his absence. I topped up our glasses of whiskey, looking over at Scott. He gave a slight nod of acknowledgement.

Scott cleared his throat. “I am sure there is no need for any real concern but it appears there is a rumour abroad that Lancer is cursed.” I watched Murdoch who blinked and looked from Scott to me, but said nothing. “I know, Murdoch, I presume it is just rumour and gossip but as most of our workforce is Mexican, I understand there is a history in their culture of giving credence to this sort of talk.”

I kept my head down and ran my finger around the rim of my glass. “Scott thinks it may be someone trying something sneaky ‘gainst us.” I looked up. “I was thinking me an’ Scott should go with you and Teresa to meet the stage in Morro Coyo. We could stay on to scout out any strangers or news.”

Murdoch sipped his drink, tapping his fingers on his desk. He looked directly at Scott. “Do you agree with your brother?”

“Yes, sir. It would do no harm and we could at the same time place the ranch order at Senor Baldemero’s. Morro Coyo is our nearest township and is home to the families of many of our hands we need to show our continuing loyalty to them.”

“Very well Scott. Do you agree, Johnny?”

I nodded, “Yep; guess I’ll call it a night. Gottta say I’m happy for Teresa having this visit. She deserves some fun and female company after running around after us.”

I could feel Murdoch watching me as I went up the stairs.

 

Chapter Four

I heard the knock and for a moment thought to ignore it. ‘Can only be Scott or Murdoch an’ they will only worry if I don’t let ‘em in.’ “Yeah come on in.”

It was Murdoch looking ill at ease.

I stood there with my boots off and my shirt undone, just knowing where this was going.

“Johnny, can we talk?” My father had that grey haunted look I’d seen on him before whenever memories of Mama had threatened us.

“Sure Murdoch.” I waved and pointed to the chair I kept by the window. Then I stood and waited.

I must have inherited the way to keep quiet from my ol’e man ‘cos Mama surely could fill up the silence with her temper.

He didn’t sit but stared out of my window into the dark. “Your Mama believed in the brujas, didn’t she, Johnny?”

Well, that was straight to the point.

“Yes. Gotta tell you Murdoch, as a little kid I was scared of those old ladies in the villages.”

My fingers tapped against my leg as I thought what to tell my father, this gringo. “I don’t know exactly what she was told or heard when we were here, but she sure put fear into me about you and this place. Later that childhood fear turned into hate.”

Murdoch shook his head but didn’t turn around. “I’m so sorry, son. I do know the story of the curse, but…  well, there were superstitions back in Scotland and I made a decision to leave those behind once I came to the new world. When your mother first came here she was so happy and you were born strong and healthy. For a while, all was well and I put the old story out of my mind.”

I could hear the pain behind the words, I didn’t need to hear this. “Murdoch, please don’t. Por favor let us leave the past in the past.”

He turned to me and there was grief in his face.  Dios! He is a big man. He stepped forward and was holding onto me so tight. “She heard of the curse and I told her to ignore it. I should have understood her fear for you and herself. But I was too focused on the land and the possibility of getting your brother back.”

“Murdoch, please, Papa.” I used the word hoping it gave him as much comfort as it gave me.

“Murdoch, when I was older I grew to understand most brujas operate by spreading superstitions and fear. I’m not saying some don’t have powers but I aim to take care of this.”

My father held me by my shoulders and at that moment something passed between us, some understanding. I’m not smart with words like my brother but it was something, perhaps forgiveness.

 

Chapter Five

After waving Murdoch and Teresa off on the stage to Stockton, I took Scott to one side. “Before we go looking for trouble I should tell you my plan.” 

“That would be a good idea. So what is our plan?” Scott raised his eyebrow and gave me his best big brother look.

 “My plan is we act like honest ranchers but keep our eyes and ears open. We are here to buy ranch supplies so that is what we should do.”

Scott and I crossed over towards Senor Baldemero’s store.  There were no strangers hanging around but I was on full alert.

“Have you seen anything, Johnny?” Scott was getting better at not crowding me, and at least he was acting unconcerned.

I kept walking, my hat low, my right hand close to my hip. “Nope, all quiet like it should be.”

“Hola Senors, welcome.” Senor Baldemero, as always, was pleased to see Lancer customers.

I smiled at him as Scott put into practice his Spanish. “Hola, Buenos Dias. Como esta?”

“Si si bien,. gracias Senor Scott. Your Spanish it gets better every time you visit my store.”

I slapped Scott on his shoulder. “He is a good pupil.”

Scott pushed his hat to the back of his head and just like a little kid pulled a face at me.  I do enjoy small moments like that when we can act up a bit.

I turned to Senor Baldemero.  “We have a list, Senor. Can we leave it to be filled? Scott and I are planning on staying in Morro Coyo overnight.” I dug the list out of my shirt and passed it over the counter to a storekeeper, who had a knowing look on his face.

Scott had driven the wagon with Murdoch and Teresa and their baggage into town. I had ridden Barranca, of course.

The horses and wagon were at the livery. I had scratched Barranca behind his ears and told him to be good and I would visit him later.  I know Scott thinks I spoil him but he is my amigo and deserves nothing less.  A walk through the stables and corral told me there were no new horses. I regularly check up on the comings and goings in Morro Coyo; some of my old habits are always going to be useful.  Val does the same for me in Green River.

I leaned my hip against the counter and watched Scott trying on hats. This little store, crowded with everything a body could need, always stirred memories, most good, some not so. “Come on, Scott, have you made your mind up? I’m in need of Rosita’s tamales.” I grinned at him. “Rosita will make sure you have a glass of milk to cool down her chilli peppers.”

“Thank you, Johnny. Senor Baldemero, I will take this hat; please add it to our order.” Scott gave me that big brother look he tries on and handed over a nice looking hat with a good wide brim.  I had a thought that I would braid a hatband for him, He would like that.

Rosita’s was busy with the usual customers; she immediately greeted us and made a fuss of us both. I kissed her on her cheek. “Mamacita Rosita, I can taste your tamales in the air.”

She was chuckling and scolding me as only a Mexican mama can while she led us to my favourite table at the rear of her café.

After we had eaten our fill, Rosita’s niece, Olivia Garcia, sashayed up fetching two chocolate drinks flavoured with cinnamon and a plate of churros.  She was all eyes and body for Scott. “Hola, Senor Scott.” She glanced at me. “Hola, Juanito, are you two caballeros here to attend tomorrow’s festival de polilla negra?”

“We are here to collect ranch supplies but a festival sounds fun.” I smiled at her to get her attention away from Scott, and tried to keep my voice gentle. “Scott an’ I will be happy to join in, won't we brother?”

Scott had a silly grin on his face as he smiled at the lovely Olivia. “Most assuredly I will be there.”

We stepped out to bright afternoon sunshine and I pulled my hat low. There was no one I could see who should cause me trouble but that chill down my back told me there was danger in the air.

Scott stood next to me. “So, what next, Johnny?”

 I shrugged and turned to look at him. “I had hoped to talk to Maria or Cipriano before we came into Morro Coyo, but Teresa was up and about before daybreak and I didn’t want to talk about brujas and curses within her hearing. Think we should find the Padre and ask him about this festival.”

I didn’t like to mention to Scott that ol’ Augusto Carlos had made the sign of the cross when he had spoken of the festival.

 

Chapter Six

“Hola Father Miguel.”  We had found the Padre on his knees collecting herbs in the mission garden. I smiled at him. “Do you need a hand up?”

“Si Juanito, that would be kind of you.” He handed over his basket of herbs to Scott and I gave him my hand.  His age showed in his hand, the skin deep brown and wrinkled, but there was still strength in his grip.

He looked from me to Scott and back again as he straightened his robe then took the herb basket from Scott.  “Is it the proposed festival that brings you here?”

I looked into his eyes and just like when I was a little kid I couldn’t tell an outright lie. “We came in with our father and sister to see them off on the stage and to collect supplies.”

He raised his eyebrow at me and I scuffed my boot in the dirt. “I heard tell of a curse on the Alvarez family from Augusto Carlos. We need to find out who is putting it about the curse is now on Lancer.”

Father Miguel looked at Scott. “Morro Coyo is a small village, Scott Lancer, and I know all the inhabitants.  I do not approve of this festival. It is not one that has been celebrated here before.”  He led us towards a bench under the shade of an old oak tree and slowly lowered his body, setting the basket on his knee.

“You have told your brother of polilla negra— the black moth and the belief that if one enters your house you have to sweep it out immediately or someone will die shortly after?”

I shrugged. “Scott isn’t one to believe in curses and brujas, but we do need to find out who is spreading the tale of the old curse.”

Father Miguel closed his eyes for a minute then sighed. “There is a woman who moved in with the Senora Constancia supposedly her niece here to look after the old lady. She has taken on the role of the curandera. I suspect it is she who has suggested this festival on the pretence of ridding Morro Coyo of the curse that she says has spread from the Lancer hacienda.”

Scott made a snorting noise. “At a price no doubt on cures and protection from it. We should get the law involved.”

Both me and Father Miguel said, “No,” and looked at each other.

“Hold on, Scott, we have no proof, and besides it would be an insult to disrespect the belief in the ability of a curandera.”  I held onto his arm trying to make him understand we needed to tread quietly in this.  “We need to be sneaky, be sure before we act.”

Scott had that look he must have inherited from Murdoch but he nodded his agreement.

“Gracias, Padre, for your help.” I shook the old priest’s hand.

“Good luck gentlemen. I will say a prayer for you.”

We walked back towards the main street and Scott looked about. “Shall we go look for these ladies?”

I put my arm around his shoulder. “Not yet. Don’t forget we are two ranchers here buying supplies, who are now going to the cantina for a beer and maybe some pretty company.”

I pursed my lips. “Scott, you should know…the working girls in there are probably the curandera’s best customers, so we best keep our concerns to ourselves.  We can ask about the festival. You could make out it sounds like fun.”

Scott stopped and turned to me. “Best customers?”

“Yes, to stay healthy and able to work.  But it’s not just the working girls. Lots of girls and women use the potions to get a fella to notice them, to make a baby healthy or a boy, to not have a baby. I am just saying best not to give too much away in there.”

He gave me that pitying look he gets when lessons I learned in my childhood come to light, but he just nodded and carried on walking and then let me look in the canteen before we went in.

We both tasted our beers before he spoke. “Have you seen anything we should worry about, Johnny?”

“Nope, but we are being watched.”

I could see him giving that some thought. I grinned. “Just enjoy your drink, Scott, and some company. No need to rush at this.”

“You’re not planning something without me, are you, Johnny?”

“Boy, you sure can be a suspicious fella. This ain't a gunfight Scott. We don’t even know if there is anyone other than these two ladies involved, do we?” I finished my beer and waved over to the barkeeper for two more, then gave a couple of the gals a nod to come on over.  Fact is, I needed to distract Scott ‘cos he sure is getting better at reading me.

I know my brother and he is a ladies’ man. Sure enough, he was soon on his way upstairs with a new gal, red hair, going by the name Carlotta.

I smiled at the girl on my knee, who I had spent time with before. I traced my finger from her ear along her chin to her lips and down to her throat knowing she liked that gentle movement “What’s new in town, Sophia?”

“Ah, Juanito, there is to be a small festival tomorrow. There will be music and dancing and the curse of the polillo negra will be lifted.” She cuddled up to me and whispered in my ear, “Will you dance with me Juanito?”

“Can’t promise you a dance tomorrow, but I can promise you a good time later tonight.” My finger traced all the way down from her slender neck to her flat little belly and that promise I made was on the true.  “You’re not cursed by the black moth, are you. Sophia?” 

She sighed and her body was pressed into me. “No, Juanito, I have visited the curandera and she made a potion that will keep me safe.”

I kissed the back of her neck.  “Before you and I go upstairs I think I had best visit her, make sure I’m not in need of any potion.”

She ran her hand through my hair and returned my kiss. “Ahh, Juanito you have never needed any potion when you and I are together.”

“Sophia, chica, I am flattered. You just go on up and I will be with you soon.”

 

Chapter Seven

I stepped down a narrow alley, the shadows now drawing in, and peered around onto the calle that ran behind the main street.  From my previous visits to Morro Coyo I knew I would find what I was looking for along here.

There was no one to stop me from entering the small adobe building.  I stepped to one side away from the door and let my eyes adjust to the dimness. “Hola, is it possible to speak to the curandera?” I slowly pulled my gun from the holster but let it hang down by my leg.

A curtain was pulled to one side and one of the women I was looking for appeared. It wasn’t the elderly Senora Constancia, but a younger woman.

“Senor Juanito Madrid, we were expecting you.” She had a low husky voice and deep brown eyes; a black shawl covered her head.

“I go by Lancer, Senora.” I let my eyes take in the poor surroundings before they went back to look at her.

“As you wish. Please follow me.” She turned and retreated into the darkness at the back of the building.

Behind a small table sat a frail old lady, her withered hands resting on a small box.  She looked up at me and smiled a toothless smile; there was the glaze of blindness over one of her eyes. “Hola, Juanito, it has been many years. Come sit down so I may look at you.”

Remembrance of being a little kid afraid of old ladies like this flooded back. My mouth had gone dry. I had to swallow before I did as she bid.

The younger woman went to stand behind her.

“You know me, old woman? You know why I am here?”  I kept my voice soft and my gun out of its holster.

“Si, Juanito, I remember you as a nino. You are here to understand the past and how it touches your life and future.”

“I am here to ask why you and this other curandera are whispering about long ago curses.”

“Let me tell you of the past.” I had to lean forward to hear her quiet voice. “Alberto Martinez Alvarez was a cruel man. He mistreated his own wife and he took advantage of the girls on the estancia.”

 She looked at me and I knew at that moment she had suffered at his hands. “He took me as his mistress; when a child was expected I ran, afraid for our safety.”  She turned to look over her shoulder towards the woman who stood behind her. “My daughter was raised by the nuns at the mission in Nombre de Dios.

“After we fled I am told the Senora Alvarez was driven to madness by her husband and her inability to provide him with an heir. One day Alvarez was found dead and she declared to all who would listen the hacienda was cursed by the polilla negra.  It was not long after she too died, and the hacienda was abandoned.”

I looked over at the younger woman. Now my eyes had adjusted to the light, I could see she was a little older than I first thought. There was a strength and nobility about her. “Did the Senora Alvarez kill her husband and then herself?”

“I wasn’t there, Juanito, but that is what I believe. It was a tragedy but they were not killed by a bruja's curse.”

I sighed in understanding. “But that is how the story started. Then my father came and his first wife died and the story took off. Can I ask Senora, when did you return to Morro Coyo?”

The old lady opened the carved box and took out a small locket on a narrow silver chain. “I had heard of the estancia now being in the ownership of Murdoch Lancer and returned to Morro Coyo shortly before your Mama arrived here as a new bride. She had the gift, as do you, Juanito.”

“Gift? What gift is that, old lady?” This was getting personal and that didn’t sit too well with me.

She patted my hand. “The ability to hear what is not said, to see behind a false smile, to trust your feelings. Your Mama believed in the old ways. She heard the story of the curse and brought you to me for a charm to keep you safe.”

She handed me the locket, now opened to show a soft curl of black hair. “I made up a charm that would protect you.”

I reached out and my finger touched the locket. “She loved me enough for this but still took me away.”

“She left, Juanito, because she did not feel safe. She told me the hacienda had ghosts who were not at peace.”

I nodded. That sounded like Mama, trusting her instinct to keep on the move one step ahead of whatever she thought was after us. Until she met my stepfather; then for a few years we were happy and settled. I gave a shudder as memories of the past surfaced.  

“Why is there now talk of this curse coming back to haunt my family?” I gave a hard look at her daughter, knowing from the padre she had not long been in Morro Coyo.

“I sent for my daughter when the devil Pardee terrorised the land, my health had become poor and I feared I could not meet the needs of my friends and neighbours. There is evil and danger in the air for you. I no longer have the power to halt it.”

I could see the old lady was getting distressed; I put my hand over hers, “Por favor, Mama Constancia. Shush; do not blame yourself. Do you know of any strangers recently arrived?”

She shook her head. “You know, Juanito, danger is not always from a stranger.”

“Si, this is right.” I closed my eyes for a moment. “This festival, the Padre tells me, is to celebrate the polillo negra to remove the curse from Morro Coyo. There will be many people attending?”

It was the younger woman who answered me. “It is arranged to reclaim the tradition, to put right the wrong that was done by the Alvarez family.”

I stood to take my leave. “Gracias ladies. Thank you for talking to me. If you should ever wish to visit the hacienda I would consider it honour to show you my home. You will see it is now a place where we are a family untouched by an old curse.” I wasn’t going to let on I believed in their tales. Neither of them smiled or accepted my invitation.

That night my childhood fears of curses eased while the lovely Sophia and I had fun exploring each other’s bodies.  I left at first light, promising her a dance at the festival.

Morro Coyo was just waking up. I stood on the sidewalk and stretched. The smell of coffee and bread was in the air, coming from the outdoor cocina shared by the inhabitants on the calle.

I went back in and up the stairs, to Carlotta’s room “Hey Scott, coming on in.” The room was empty.

“Dios.”

There was nothing to suggest a struggle but his clothes were gone and so was the girl Carlotta.

“You gone to visit a curandera, brother?” I asked the empty room. 

There were a few women and children on the calle around the cocina and the communal water fountain, so I scooted down around the back of the adobe buildings until I was at the rear of the curandera’s home.  These little adobe homes didn’t have back doors but there was a shuttered window and I prised it open a little to hear what sounded like a low chanting.  The hairs on the back of my neck went up and a chill went down my spine.

I took my spurs off and left them on the ground, opened the shutters some more and took a quick look into the dark of the curtained-off sleeping area. It was empty. I opened the shutters and squeezed my body through the opening.

Without conscious thought I drew my gun as I stepped up to the curtain and held my breath; all my instincts told me to take care.  The smell of candles and incenses took me back to my early childhood when Mama would take me with her to consult old ladies in dark hovels. I listened closely; there was no sound other than the low chanting.  The fear for any danger Scott may have got into was far greater than childhood fears of old ladies who spoke of blue-eyed boys being cursed.

I pulled the curtain back, my gun at the ready.

Scott sat on the floor with his hands tied behind his back, a gag in his mouth. The younger curandera stood behind him with a knife at his throat. 

“I was expecting you, Juanito. The ceremony could not begin until you arrived.” She smiled.

“You okay, Scott?”  I looked into his eyes but they were glassy and unfocused.

“You drug him?” I looked around for Carlotta and old Senora Constancia.  They were both sitting upright at the table, still as statues.  I know what death looks like and the old lady was dead. Carlotta had the same blank look in her eyes as Scott.

“Your Mama the Senora has passed away. Did you kill her?” I kept my voice low and my gun trained on her.

“No. I could not kill her. It was simply her time to cross over.” The calmness in her voice was unnerving but I had to keep her attention to stop her using that knife. “She did what she thought right, but I knew I was meant to right the wrong Alvarez did, no matter that the nuns tried to drive it out of me. This is my destiny.”

“You have used the fear of polillo negra to take your own revenge.  That we are Lancer, not Alvarez, makes no difference to you?” I watched her eyes for any tell she would move.

“It makes no difference, Juanito. The girl brought your gringo brother here. I knew he would come.  I thought it would have been you to fetch him, but still, you are here now. That is as it should be.”

“What do you intend. Senora? What have I or my brother done that requires you to threaten us?”

The madness I knew was in her was there in her laugh. “Done? You live in the hacienda that by rights is mine. I cannot kill you, Juanito. You have protection from the curse.  But this one will die by your hand.  Your gringo law will hang you, Your padre will break his heart. Then the hacienda will be mine.”

My blood ran cold. As Madrid I had faced all kinds of opponents, ranging from damn stupid to outright evil, and this bruja was up there with the crazy evil ones.

“Senora, I have no wish to kill you, but make no mistake. I will.  There is no chance of you taking Lancer. Land pirates have tried and failed.” I tried not to let the smoke and smell from the candles distract me.

“I do not want the land. It is the hacienda that is meant to be mine.  The land should have been taken by my hermano.” She let out a noise like a growl. “But you arrived; the charm la Madre cast on you is too strong. You survived.”

I frowned and blinked as I tried to concentrate. There was something in the smoke from the candles and incense that was making the room swim.  “Who is your brother?”

“You know him as Day Pardee. We shared the Alvarez blood. He would consult me. He believed in the old ways as do you, Juanito.  I quietly spread word of the curse. It made these peons nervous and afraid. It was easy for him to control them. He promised me the hacienda. He had no use for our father’s house. When he failed, I waited and stayed in the shadows. As my madre became weaker so my powers became stronger.” She paused and glared at me. “I have cast the curse of the polillo negra over Morro Coyo and the lands of Alvarez. The hacienda will be mine.”

My mouth was dry and I started to see double. Her voice reached me all soft and wheedling. I knew there was a powerful drug in the air, maybe peyote or opium, and it would be so easy to give in to it and its effects.

“Juanito, point your gun at this gringo. He does not belong here, does he? You have the power to bring me my destiny.” 

My world had shrunk to her black as night eyes, and a siren voice that echoed in my head.

“No, no.” I wasn’t sure if I said the words out loud or not. I fired my gun as I passed out.

 

Chapter Eight

“Scott!” Hands pushed me back down as I tried to sit up. “Scott?” My eyes tried to focus on the face above me.

“He is fine, Juanito, he is sleeping.” Father Miguel was wiping my face. “Stay still, nino, until your head is clear. I do not think I could pick you up if you should fall over.”

He held a cup to my lips. I was in need of water but cautious.  “It is only pure water, here sip it slowly.”

My head started to clear and the memory of the bruja holding a knife to Scott’s throat and her crazy rantings came flooding back. “Did I kill her?” I stayed down on the floor looking up at the Padre.

“You shot her in her arm. She has been taken to the mission and is being held in a secure room.  The old curandera was dead; she is laid out on her bed until I can arrange her burial. Your brother and the young lady are both sleeping off the effects of the drug used on them.”

I appreciated his short explanation of the situation, “Let me up, Father. I need to see Scott for myself.”  I pushed up and sat for a moment; the room didn’t spin, the air clear of the fumes from the candles. Scott was on the floor near the door. I went to kneel by him.  His breathing was regular and there didn’t appear to be any injuries, only a small scratch where the knife had been held against his skin. My fingers touched it and I silently gave thanks.

“Tell me what happened. How did you come to be here?”  I turned to look at the old Padre who had taken a seat at the table.

“You and your brother have many friends in Morro Coyo. I was told of you coming to look for him here. Not all the inhabitants approved of the story of the curse. They were concerned for your welfare.” He smiled at me.

“Did you hear any of what she was saying?” At that moment I realised I didn’t have a name for the bruja.

“Si. I am afraid the evil that ran in Don Alvarez’s blood ran also in hers. There was a terrible madness in her and she misused the knowledge her mother passed on to her. It is a tragedy, because Senora Constancia was a good woman, but too old and frail to control her daughter. She wouldn’t have encouraged her to take possession of the hacienda; it held no good memories for her.” Father Miguel slowly shook his head and made the sign of the cross as he spoke of the old lady.

I checked on Scott again, He was sleeping like a baby and my fear for him dissolved. “What will happen to the bruja? I don’t want her around the San Joaquin causing trouble in the future.”

“I agree, Juanito. I will arrange for her to be looked after by the nuns in Abiquiu. It is a secure monastery. They have experience of caring for those sick in mind as well as body.”

I stood and stretched my back and neck. “Lancer will make a donation to the mission. I trust you will make suitable arrangements.” I held up my hand to stop any protest and smiled at him. “Can I ask, Padre, where the lady Scott came with is?”

He smiled back. He was a man of god but also worldly-wise. “She is back in her own bed. Senorita Sophia will take care of her.”

 

Chapter Nine

Scott slept peacefully until late afternoon as I watched over him. Mamacita Rosita herself had shown up with some well-needed refreshments.  I realised I had missed out on breakfast and lunch when my stomach rumbled as the smell of tamales and beans and a generous helping of fresh churros con chocolate filled the air.

Suddenly the little adobe house was no longer the dark dangerous home of a curandera filled with stories of curses. All trace of whatever drugs were used were gone, driven away by the kindness of the padre and people like Senora Rosita.

“Johnny?”  Scott’s voice sounded confused.

I looked up from the churros and went to crouch down by him. “Welcome back, Scott. Had a nice long siesta there?”

He looked up at me, his eyes clear and bright. “You have chocolate all around your mouth, Johnny, and why am I here down on the floor?”

Reaching out I took his arm. “Get up, you lazy cowboy. I’ve got a story to tell you.”

I had given some thought to not telling my eastern raised educated brother about the goings on but he is getting better at reading me and would know if I lied.

He ate some tamales while he listened. I could see he was thinking about all I told him. When I had finished he nodded. “She really was dangerous with her ability to influence people and turn an innocent superstition into a curse.  Am I right thinking she believed you are alive because you are charmed?”

I felt Madrid creep up on me and my face went blank. “I’m alive through a combination of skill and learning my lessons the hard way, Scott. How to stay alive was the most important lesson I learned.” I wasn’t about to say out loud the fear that the charm Mama had told me would keep me alive had, at my darkest times, seemed more of a curse.

My brother blinked, recognising the change in me, and held his hands up. “I was going to go on to say you can be charming, especially to the ladies.”

“Sorry, Scott. Guess I’m still a bit out of sorts over this whole deal.” I shook Madrid off.

He reached over and patted my arm. “No more evil moths cursing us, so I guess the fiesta is called off?”

“No curse of the mariposa de la muete, so no need for any ceremony, but hey, us Mexicans love any excuse for a fiesta. Cheerful music, pretty senoritas kicking up their heels, plenty to eat and drink… they are good enough reason to celebrate life.” I reached over and patted his shoulder. “I promised Sophia a dance and I’d hate to break a promise.”

“Then lead the way brother. It would be less than gallant for us not to attend a local fiesta.” He was on his feet straightening his clothes and patting down his hair.

I put my arm around his shoulder and pushed him out into calle. Lamps strung along the length of the street were being lit, there was a band setting up, and the number of people appearing was growing. Food was set out on a long trestle table.

There was a good feeling in the air. Now was not the time to tell him of my concerns. I put aside my belief in curses and charms. Someone hired Day, maybe someone who knew of the history of the land, and the bruja followed him here. I just know someone is in the shadows trying to find our weak spots, waiting for us to lower our guard, but they will have to get past me.

 

 

~ end ~
April/ July/Aug 2019

Notes:

bruja information: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/952-la-bruja-mexican-witchcraft

link to bruja info https://gregory04.blogspot.com/

 

Link to La polilla negra info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pola_Negri
Black MOTH"characteristics, superstitions and... https://www.polillas.org/negra 27/02/2019 · Knows all about the black moth, also known as: «butterfly of death', "old mouse" (Mexico - America), «money bat» (Bahamas), Black Witch (USA). Also known as "the country of the dead Butterfly", "butterfly of death", "butterfly of bad luck", "butterfly of the horror"

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