Previously published in The Acentos Review 2020 December issue, and the Big Muddy Journal 2021 issue, Christian Vazquez is a 26-year-old gay writer from Brownsville, Texas. Today, he is a Professor of English at Houston Community College. His Instagram: christian77vazquez Twitter: @christian77v Also, he is co host of El Unnamed Podcast on YouTube.
He wanted to go outside, but that brown statue of Zeus looked sad in the cold. It stood in the middle of the green courtyard where all the little paths from the gardens converged to. All paths led to Zeus. His fountain was not even on. It looked lonely. The grey clouds above it only looked grayer when all the red and yellow leaves from the trees flew like birds all around the courtyard.
Then the first drops of rain hit the glass on the window as if Zeus had spit. Andres let the velvet curtains hide the outside. He was inside again, bored. Nobody was in the halls. Occasionally he would find Marta cleaning and she would just ask him if he was hungry but that was all. His dad was in his office on the second floor. It was well known to everyone that he would be there from morning to afternoon working, especially now that it was winter. He was always talking on those big screens. Ever since things became virtual his dad would say that the cost of his travels had decreased. In one whole day he could do a meeting anywhere that was needed, even on a tv show if that was on the schedule.
Andres looked at the chandeliers, the lights throughout the walls that imitated candles but were actually electric. His mom had her own office too, and she was also attending her own meetings virtually, but mostly she was always typing. Everyone had something to do, except for him. School was on hold for the winter break. Nobody visited the home in the winter. There was Minecraft. There was always Roblox, or most of the time the Metaverse, but that got boring very quickly. Before he was considering going outside, but he heard the thunder.
After building houses on Roblox and Minecraft, Andres began to notice more of his own house’s details. The thirty rooms. The long spiral stairs. The small elevator. The gold paint on the walls, and the monarch butterflies trapped in those golden worlds within them. He opened the door to the one room that always captured his attention. Every time he went in there, he discovered something knew in all those shapes. It was his parent’s music room. There was a boring old piano in the center of the room, but all around it lay Aztec drums, and flutes. In them there were ancient faces and shapes carved into them. They looked like squares, triangular faces, almost like Roblox people. He was looking at the images until he was laying down on the floor and saw a new discovery. The word, cuicatlamatiliztli , was carved on the ceiling around the chandelier. It was as if somebody had ripped a giant piece from a pyramid and had used it to build the ceiling of the room. That was precisely what had been done, he remembered, but he didn’t know from where. He also knew the word meant the art of something, so he took out his tablet from his small backpack. It was defined, as art of music.
It was almost time for dinner. This was something that everyone in the house knew. Dinner was ready at five. No matter where in the house you found yourself in, everyone gravitated to the dinner table at that time without being asked. That was how it had been before he was born, and that is how it was now.
He closed the door, satisfied that he had found something to add to his collection. Down the red spiral stairs again, past the small elevator entrance, in the hall that led to the dinner room was his arch enemy. He sat readily expecting him. Andres separated his arms like he had seen the cowboys do in those really old movies. The albino German-Shephard’s coldness matched his own snowy fur. Andres made a sudden movement and Coco knocked him down to tickle his face with his snout.
“Stop playing with the dog, Andres, we’re about to eat,” his mom said. He never paid attention to what his mom wore, but today she was wearing a beige dress embroidered with red and blue flowers, showing the brown smooth skin of her shoulders. Her red heels were making their way to the long table. She had not dressed up in a long while since the pandemic.
The room was dim, the curtains were closed, and the wind cried outside like a ghost in penance. The electronic candles painted everything dark golden, even their faces. Andres got up and followed his mother. The flautas and frijoles were already served when they seated.
“I love when you wear your traditional dresses,” Andres’ father said as he sat down at the head of the table.
“I love when you wear your traditional suits,” his mom said. His suit was floral like hers, except it was as dark as his black hair, combed all the way back. Andres always thought they looked alike. He remembers how he used to think they were brothers when he was little, and they had laughed so hysterically when he asked.
After Marta had finished bringing the rest of the salsas she sat with them and started talking about the weather. The long table did not seem lonely with the four of them eating, laughing, and Coco keeping an eye out to see if anything fell off their plates.
“They say that in Mexico the Covid cases are rising too,” his dad changed subject.
“Except it hasn’t become as politicized as here,” his mom joined.
They continued talking about things Andres found boring, all that adult stuff. How did they not get bored from talking about that same boring stuff every day? He finished eating quickly so that he had time to go look for more treasures, and left them without noticing.
Except Coco. Andres turned around to see if he would follow. Coco stared back. The dog then turned again to his parents eating. He had made his decision.
Night had come, but the halls still remained dimly golden. He decided to go now to the hall where nobody ever went, and the doors never opened. These were the abandoned rooms, the rooms that contained nothing but space, hoping for one day to house something or someone. He could hear the thunder, and the rain from the large windows in the hall.
Standing in that abandoned hallway of the house, made him feel actually alone, away from everybody. He didn’t believe in ghosts, but he remembered suddenly that his parents had said some workers had heard voices coming from one of those rooms. Both of his parents had laughed it off, too busy to even entertain the idea.
All he could hear now were his footsteps, even upon that gray carpet. There were two doors on either side of the hall, but one stood singularly alone right in front of him. It seemed to him as if everything…everything in this world had been made to eventually end up in front of this door like a beginning or an end.
He grasped the silver knob first to see if it was locked. It turned and he felt the door open automatically without a push. He walked in. Before he could even regret his decision or realize that he had actually made the decision to walk in, there was darkness. It was all around him. It was so weird to have your eyes open, but see nothing but a void.
“Hello,” a woman’s voice suddenly echoed the entire void. If sound had a color, her greeting would have gotten rid of the entire darkness. It was almost a whisper, but capable of enveloping your entire being.
Andres jumped, or felt he jumped, he could not see. He felt his entire body turn to statue.
“Help me,” the voice said.
Then, after the wave of her words crashed over him, he heard a thud and desperate scratches on a door. He followed the sounds to get out as fast as he felt his legs could move. The scratches continued until he felt the knob. He saw the light.
The dim golden light of the hall was all there was after he shut the door. Coco placed his paws on his chest repeatedly as if he wanted to push him. Andres was too startled to even register what was happening. It was like pieces of his mind were slowly coming back from beyond that door, piece by piece until he was entirely back. The hall, the doors, the electronic candles, Coco wagging his tail and crying. They both ran out of there, and the door stayed behind.
He hid under his bedsheets, but the lights in his room stayed on for the rest of the night. The wind shook the glass on the window. The rain splattered it. Then, there was sunlight.
“Good morning, mijo,” his mother came and she was about to turn on the lights. “You’re up already?”
“I couldn’t—" he was about to tell her but Marta came in.
“Mrs. Norma, the people in the screens are asking for you.”
“Oh, yes.” She turned to Andres again and her brows furrowed. “Tell them I’ll start the meeting in twenty minutes.”
“Yes, Mrs. Norma.”
His mom’s heels echoed, her blue dress glowed with the sunlight from his window. She sat on his bed.
“What’s wrong, Andres?”
“I couldn’t sleep, Mom. I heard something in that room nobody goes too. The one where they say there are ghosts.”
“Last night. I went there and there was a lady. I heard a lady say hello, Mom.”
“Take me,” she said and grabbed his hand.
Hand in hand they went off together, so early for an adventure. They crossed the halls, climbed the stairs, passed the common quarters, until finally there they were. Still holding on to each other, before the two doors on either side of the hall and the one door ahead of them.
“This is it,” he said. “I heard her in there.”
Norma looked at Andres, saw his black hair messy from sleep, and she remembered when she was his age. She remembered that time when she had been a little girl, walking by the hand of her mom to a market in Mexico. There had been an old man waving at her goodbye from an abandoned-looking house. In the market Norma had told her mom about the old man, about the house, and her mom had told her that it was impossible because that man had died weeks ago.
She looked up, back at the door. Would the old man be there? Andres walked towards the door before she could finish that thought, and she matched his pace. She turned the knob. The door smoothly opened.
The smell of old walls, old furniture immediately came to them. The room was dark, but faint glow of sunlight creeped into the bare floorboards, the empty room, from the curtains. There was nothing. An entire room with nothing but the curtains and windows. It was a huge room. Why hadn’t they done anything with this room?
“I, when I came here, it was completely dark. It was like being blind,” Andres said.
“Andres, the mind is a powerful thing. Sometimes we think we hear or see something, and our minds believe it so much that we really think it’s real,” she said stooping so that she could meet his gaze.
“Mom, there was a lady. I swear I heard her.”
“How did she look like?”
“I don’t know. I told you it was completely dark.”
They agreed on talking about it later, but she told him everything was fine, that everything was okay. His mother saying it made whatever had happened the day before feel silly and childish. She said she would ask his dad to check the surveillance, but he repeated the words she had said. Everything is fine. Everything is okay. That was that. She went back to her meeting with the monitors. Andres laid on his bed and tried to catch up on his sleep.
While he was closing his eyes, he played it all in his head again. The door. The knob. The darkness. The voice. He thought and thought, tried to explain why nothing had happened when he took his mom. Sleep was quieting his mind when suddenly there was a loud idea that woke him up. It has to be at the same time. He has to go into the room at exactly the same time he went there in the first place, after dinner. Then sleep finally came, a darkness of a different kind. A peaceful darkness.
He felt that it had all been a dream. It was an hour before dinner. Instead of feeling refreshed from catching up on his sleep, he had a headache, and his mind was unclear. The shower brought everything back. He had to visit the room after dinner, to see again, and then…and then what? What would he do if he heard the lady again? He tried not to think about that part, but he needed to go.
His parents were already at the long table when he got there. Marta was already eating as well. There was a silver cloche on his dish covering his meal.
“Are you okay, mijo?” his mother, asked.
“I’ve been telling you to stop playing those video games all night, Andres.” his father said.
“Ay, Manuel,” his mother waved her hand.
“I didn’t stay up all night,” Andres said as he began to eat.
Coco was attentive again to see if anything fell off their plates, even after he had already been fed. Marta continued to explain that there was going to be a winter storm coming. She could feel it in the air, see it in the shape of the clouds, and also they had said so on tv. They started talking about plants, how this weather was affecting their trees.
“I feel like all of us, no matter what we do, we’re just watering some form of plant,” Manuel said.
“What?” Norma asked wanting to laugh as she drank from her glass of wine.
“Me with the meetings. You with yours. Marta with her job. We are all attending to this and to that. Our responsibilities are like plants, but our drops are not of water they are of our energy.”
“Only I carry buckets to water mine and both of you droppers,” Marta said and they all laughed.
Andres always laughed when people were laughing no matter if it was funny or not. He found all laughter contagious except the ones that came from evil; the sort that came from being made fun of. The sort of laughs he sometimes received when school had been open, before the pandemic.
After Marta suggested coffee, Andres finished eating. He left the silver fork on the plate but placed the silver dinner knife in his pocket. Nobody noticed as the coffee was being passed around, then the sugar, the creamer. He left by simply saying he was going to go play. Coco was the only one that kept a steady eye on his leave, but the hope for some fallen reward off the table still remained.
There was some new found confidence in Andres’ stride. He felt bigger, heavier, with the sturdy weight of that knife in his pocket as he climbed the stairs and crossed hallways to get to the room of the lady’s voice. The door was still there. Same color. Same place. He approached like he had done with his mother, steadily, decidedly.
He turned the knob, pushed the door to discover the same bare room he had seen earlier. Nothing. Why? He stood there seeing the bare floors. The ordinariness of it all. He exited the room. Entered again. Exited. Entered. Nothing.
It was the same time. He was wearing the same clothes even. What was he doing differently than last time? He pictured. He visualized everything he had done last time. His tablet.
He had his tablet last time. That was the only thing that was missing. Now, he held the tablet like a shield and the knife as a sword. He opened the door in every sense of the word.
“Boy,” the bodiless feminine voice said once he entered, and the blankness was again everything.
“I’m Andres,” he said out of instinct.
“What happened to your tongues, my child. What is this that flows out of me.”
“So it happened…”
“Nothing, child. Nothing.”
“Where are you?”
“I am everywhere. This room is too small for you to actually see me. What do you know about art? That is the word I see when I am brought here. Are you one of my new poets?”
“Art?” He remembered his tablet, the image from the room. He took it out and showed the picture to everything, cuicatlamatiliztli.
“This. You have it captured in that device. You captured what you would call the past.”
“I want to see you.”
“Take me out of here. To the world, and then you will see me.”
“I am captured here just like you have captured the past. Leave the door open, leave cuicatlamatiliztli here my child. I will exit.”
“My parents would go crazy if they find out about this.”
“I am parent of all parents, and I have not gone crazy.”
“What will you do if you’re out?”
“What is your name?”
“…the tongue never named me…”
“Open the door. Leave it open. Leave the captured past with me. You will see me, and you will be the new leader of the people.”
“Don’t tell my parents I let you out,” Andres said as he tried to find his way back to the door. His heart sank after the ten seconds in which he could not find it. “Where’s the door?”
“Never fully close a portal, child. You do not know when you might need it. It is so small here. I am blind. I do not know myself.”
Before Andres began to panic he heard the scratches of a door. He followed the noise in the great blankness until he touched solid, then the knob, and finally he saw the rectangular opening to the hall.
He had left his tablet there. Now he needed to leave the door open. He stepped out and Coco was there but as soon as he saw what lay beyond the door, his tail stopped wagging. The hairs of his white coat pricked up, and an almost innate hostility came out of his eyes. Andres stared at the opened door. It looked like it was framing emptiness, like if somebody had snatched a piece of reality away and left the missing blank. Nothing, yet everything. A blank canvas. A blank document. A white wall. Anything.
Andres ran away, and Coco matched his pace. Something had gone terribly wrong. He felt it, he knew it. When he looked back, he saw the giant blue and white feathers surrounding the face of an immense serpent filling the high ceilings, the entire hall, writhing itself towards them. Its face was that of a ravenous wolf, showing its fangs, its complete yellow pupilless eyes, and its giant fork tongue reaching towards everything.
They ran as fast as they could, passing corners of the halls, the living spaces, and the chandeliers fell, shattered, imploded, as the serpent followed on its path. When they finally reached the entrance of the house, they had a chance to get out of the way. Dust, glass, smoke, still lingered in the air with no chance to settle.
“What’s happening?” he heard his mom scream from afar.
The feathered serpent had gone directly out of the house, leaving the entire wall that held the two entrance doors completely obliterated. The cold wind had entered abruptly. The gray sky was now visible, and though its head and most of its body had made flight, its long tail was still writhing its way out of the house stirring everything in its path. The giant blue and white feathers of its body gently fell as if two giants had been in an enormous pillow fight. Coco and Andres stood there hypnotized by it all. It was raining giant feathers. Norma and Manuel looked at each other to make sure they were not dreaming while Marta was calling the police.
At last, their entire body was out of the mansion.
“Get back Andres,” his parents said as they followed the great opening it had left.
The brown bronze statue of Zeus had been destroyed. Its head was missing. Above in the dark gray sky was the feathered snake getting more enormous as the seconds passed. Even from afar they could see their rabid face, snarling in fury and appeared to fly in a great circle as if trying to eat their own tail. It was infinity right before them.
“I have been freed again,” the words rumbled, the voice androgynous, and each pronunciation was followed by actual thunder of the sky. “What is all of this? False gods. False prophets. False kings. False kingdoms. False wars. False borders. False ART. My children are false.” The head of Zeus was spat out from above to land directly in front of them and the statue. The words were radiated like a loud frequency, traveling, finding ears.
The wind today seemed tangible. Its streams were dirt. Its currents carried leaves. The wind carried entire branches, and it all seemed to be magnetized towards the snake in its infinite loop in the sky. Norma felt her clothes flutter with the intensity of the wind, saw Manuel’s own hair yanked. Even with the incredibleness of the entire scene before her the most important thought that conquered her brain, the thought that made her live, did not get blown away. Andres.
She turned to find him standing where the old entrance doors had stood. Manuel began to take his phone out. The only two security guards in the entire vicinity simply stared at the snake too. Their uniforms with the word security, futile. “Shoot it!” Manuel told them.
When they finally aimed their weapons, and shot, they were lifted and what was spat out to the floor was just their blood like rain.
Norma went to Andres regardless of the wind and the blood that now made everything seem red. She hugged Andres and Manuel quickly came to them.
“What are you doing!” Norma cried.
“Andres!” Manuel went after him, but Andres had seen his tablet on the floor. The wind roared. Thunder spoke.
He wiped the blood of the lens and aimed the tablet at the feathered serpent and took a picture just like they had said about capturing the past. He pressed the button as soon as the giant snake began to destroy the fabric of the sky itself.
It was one explosive flash, and his tablet fell to the ground. Everything that had been up, came down just like it always does. The tablet’s entire screen was a brilliant white as it fell from Andres’ hands to the floor. Everything seemed frozen. There was no wind, no voices.
Andres was not there. The serpent was not there, only the blood remained. Norma screamed over and over hysterically, as she smashed the tablet with the head of Zeus, “Mi hijo!”
Coco howled from somewhere inside the house.
The screen cracked, cracked. With each crack so did the minds of Manuel, Marta, and the rest who had been witness to such a thing. Their minds cracked as they stared at the bloody head of Zeus smashing upon the tablet. “Mi hijo no te lo lleves porfavor.”