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, December 12, 2012
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FEATURED in the Writinf.com Newsletter: Short Stories: The Threshold Guardian - Editor's Picks by Shannon
, February 27, 2014
“Let’s go over the Trabalhos 1 tonight one more time,” the Spiritual Father said to the thirteen mediums quietly standing around him under the night’s sky. “We are in the Old Holy Cemetery with the Director’s permission as a registered Spiritual Center of Rio de Janeiro. We come here once a year, to make Offerings to our Chefe de Cabeças 2, especially after new mediums are crowned. These Offerings must strictly follow the Center’s rites. Remember that according to your seven steps as mediums in my Center, each of you has to follow the Mediums’ Path to Enlightenment Rules. All of you know exactly why you are here tonight but I know that as new mediums, you still have fear, and concern in your hearts, fear of the unknown --- even though you deal with the unearthly. Remember, the Offering must be followed step by step, and you will be all alone. You are in a cemetery, at night, I know, so be very careful with negative thoughts. It is 11:25 p.m. now and in five minutes I’ll ask Seu Sete Encruzilhadas 3 permission to enter his domain. I’ll open a cachaça 4 bottle, light a cigar, and offer them to him --- in exchange of his protection to my newbie mediums from whatever is out there; either evil, mischievous or dark. You will gather your Offering bags, walk in silence, never look back and find a tombstone of your desire and preference and, respectfully place your Offerings in honor of your Spiritual Head Manager. Return in exactly one hour. May the spirits protect you tonight. Go in peace, my children. Salve!" 5
Rosa Madalena’s heart was drumming in her chest. She could feel the light breeze blowing her long, black hair behind her back. She was standing up but her knees were weak; she wanted to run away. Why did they have to do these Offerings in cemeteries? Why not have the Offerings in the Round Lake Forest near the Spiritual Center? She thought that she would never get accustomed to dark forces, fire explosions, cigars, moonshine, Offerings, crossroads and dark spiritual entities. She knew that it was what it took to be a medium in the Iemanjá 6 Spiritual Center but there was so much darkness --- within goodness, and both forces needed each other in order to balance. “I must do this,” she whispered, “I must. I must … persevere but we are mysterious creatures nonetheless," Rosa mumbled to herself. She remembered her Spiritual Father’s wise words again: “Do not worry. A cemetery is a rather quiet and safe place to be at, and it’s not spiritually ‘polluted’ like bars, nightclubs, slaughterhouses, brothels, and hospitals. We should avoid these places like plagues. You will all do just fine as long as you --- believe.”
“It’s time,” Babalorixá 7 Antonio said, after lighting a big cigar and opening a cachaça bottle. He walked to a tall cross in the main Cemetery’s crossroad, touched the damp earth seven times and mumbled mysterious Yoruba words in the air; words that seemed to be blown up like tiny multi-colored bubbles. He imagined them being carried away to the seven realms of spiritual levels --- forces he knew existed behind the moon, the stars and beyond. Rosa Madalena gathered her Offering bag and together with the other mediums, walked past their Spiritual Father in silence, not before solemnly kissing Pai 8 Antonio’s hand, and disappearing into the darkness of a world full of tombs, angel images, photographs, names, dates and dead flowers. An old willow tree, which looked like a giant spider, gently shook its branches over them like curtains dancing in an open window --- while they faded away into the cemetery’s foggy night.
An owl wooed from a big, old Jack tree in the distance and Rosa thought it was very unnerving. All her senses were alert. She hungered for the security of her quiet room in her apartment in Madureira but she knew it was too late now. “We have to do what we have to do,” she murmured to herself. She yearned for the protection of the Spiritual Center, and to listen to the atabaque drums. She sought the familiar Yoruba songs. She wanted the sweet scent of incenses. She craved for the dance rituals, and the red and black candle lights. She wanted to follow the white Pemba traces on the floor before the gun-powder explosion Offerings for the powerful spiritual entities, which statuettes stood, side by side, in the altar. She thought of Satan’s image, wearing a dark cloak, and holding a long, red trident. Was his ironic smile searching your soul’s secrets? She wished for the familiar but she knew that if she didn’t conquer this next step, she would never become a powerful medium in the spiritual center. She wanted to learn it all and overcome the seven stages; become A Fire and Knife Medium! With the knowledge of knives, she could ‘cut’ evil and Voodoo. With the knowledge of fire, she could ‘open’ all doors to the invisible world and deal with any malefic entity, to her benefit. After that, and after seven years, she could even become a great Ialorixá 9 and have her own Spiritual Center.
Rosa Madalena walked under the dark, twisted trees. Their trunks somehow seemed like eerie human figures, observing; watching her every step; tombstones scattered everywhere. She saw fat angel images, thin, sad statues, chapels and somber mausoleums. Some were made of dark marble or stone, others, of a lighter marble or of cement, but they all somehow looked the same under the dim moon that was scared of being there with her. She saw faded pictures of grandparents, children, mothers and fathers, cousins and uncles, crosses, more angel images and dead people’s lives. Another world surrounded her, a world of past and memories, a world long gone but still there, spooky, greedy, wanting to be remembered forever. Transcending her perception of reality, she thought “Why am I here? Why here, of all days, on a Friday 13th? This whole place is a tomb.” She walked slowly, carefully. “Understanding and believing are two different things. Is being here my --- purpose? I am surrounded by the souls of the dead,” she whispered; worried.
She searched anxiously for ‘her’ tombstone but none looked at her, eager to be part of her unearthly endeavors. She saw a big rusty iron gate at a distance, reflected by the shy moon and stood on a tombstone in order to see the crosses and tombs ahead of her. When Rosa stepped down she noticed that the tombstone she had just stood on had no name or picture or even a date on it. She felt a sudden sadness inside her heart and the hair stood on her arms. Not understanding why but simply --- knowing, she decided that was the tombstone she wanted. She heard the silence around her and searched into the night’s world. No noise, not even the owl’s hoot. She saw a candlelight meters ahead, shimmering in the dark like a lighthouse in rough, dark seas, trying to save you from dying, and thought that it was about time she started her Offering.
Kneeling down on the cold ground near the tomb, Rosa opened her bag and removed a moonshine bottle, a small crystal glass, a long Cuban cigar and matches, seven black candles, seven red roses and seven red apples. The scent of the Colombian red roses and the hand-picked red apples penetrated her nostrils and she inhaled the sweet aroma, feeling somehow safer … but how could she? She was in a cemetery, at night, making an Offering by a tombstone! She closed her eyes, swallowed hard, breathed deeply, and touched the icy marble over the tombstone; chills ran down her back. She tapped the dark stone three times, requesting the attention of the Quimbanda 10 spiritual world. She opened her mouth and with a hoarse voice, said: “I ask permission to the seven planes of the Spiritual World, to all the Candomblé 11 entities, to Mister Seven Crossroad and Miss Seven Skirts Gypsy Lady, and especially to Satan, to allow me to make my Offering tonight. Salve!”
With trembling hands, she carefully lit the candles, using a different match for each one, and always sure to light the matches facing outwards, not towards you --- “You don’t want to get burnt in life, do you?” she remembered the Spiritual Father’s wise words. She was following every rule she learned in the Mediums’ Lessons. She placed the candles in a semi-circle near the grave, and the warm light illuminated her small, pale face, which became slightly reddish. Rosa’s eyelashes, over her deep, black eyes looked somewhat longer and darker because of the candles’ trembling lights. Her long, black hair became somehow grayish, and her long, red skirt and black taffeta blouse became brighter in color. Rosa opened the moonshine bottle and poured some of the strong liquid into the little crystal glass. Next, very carefully, she lit the cigar but coughed a bit because of the strong odor. She spat and coughed again, and thought that she’d never get used to a cigar’s taste. She placed the lit cigar next to the glass, leaning it on the big, yellow matchbox. She placed the beautiful, big red roses near the bottle, the glass, and the shimmering candles. She put each red apple next to each candle and their shadows became bigger in size on the ground and on the grave. She sat aback and admired her Offering, pleased with what she saw, and the smell of cigar, melted candles, moonshine, apples and red roses made her feel better even though being surrounded by corpses and bones, spirits and lost souls.
Before standing up she touched the ground again, three times, and said: “Accept my Offering tonight, Oh please, this is offered with devotion, respect and obedience to the Dark Side, to my Spiritual Head Chief Seven Keys and to my Spiritual Dark Guide, Cigana 12 Esmeralda of the Night. This is for them, and this is for you, Satan --- Salve!” She should have immediately left the Offering site but human nature is twisted; an abstraction characteristic of a person. She had to stay, just a little longer, and admire the display of scents, colors and objects, which did not belong to her anymore. She closed her eyes; an eerie silence.
A twig snapped. She heard a noise, she was sure it was a--a footstep --- then another one! Still kneeling down and sweating profusely, she looked around herself but the darkness that enveloped her was too deep to acknowledge anything, and her heart started drumming in her chest so hard that she thought she was going to faint. “Who—who are you? Are you one of the Mediums? Is it you, Pai Antonio?” Not a single word was uttered, nothing; stillness in the air. Then --- another footstep --- and another! The moment she put her hand on the ground to get up, she saw the bare feet of two entities and the hairy hooves of another! The feet were moving around the Offering, near the grave, and around her, as if she weren’t there but she was! She wanted to laugh, scream or cry --- but she couldn’t; her mouth, dry. Chief Seven Keys, Cigana Esmeralda of the Night, and especially Satan were right there, walking around the Offering; enveloping her soul with their presence. She saw their footprints on the earth as they moved around, heard the noises of the cachaça being poured into the crystal glass, the cigar becoming redder and redder --- its smoke going up in the air, like fog in a misty morning. Oh my, she couldn’t believe she was witnessing this.
She heard a woman’s loud laughter while some roses were lifted in the air, disappearing into the night. An apple; bitten. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Her body started to tremble violently and she wanted to run but her feet were stuck to the ground; fear and respect rested in her terrified soul. The hairy-looking pair of hooves suddenly approached her. A big, skeletal, cold hand reached out from the blackness and a long, dark fingernail touched her forehead! Was it Satan’s? She believed so --- no, she was sure it was! Touched by the darkest of all forces in the world – touched by the Supreme Dark Master! Her heart stopped a beat. This is like a --- sickness!
She managed to get up, turned around, and ran away as fast as she could, nearly tumbling over when she tripped on a smaller tombstone. She could hear their laughter, their voices, and the scent of candles, of moonshine and of cigars mixed with apples and roses. Butterflies in her stomach; nausea. She even heard other voices joining the group while she gathered her speed and ran out of there, out of the dark, out of the graves, afraid of seeing more bare feet or hairy hooves --- without their bodies! She would never do this again --- ever! No matter what! She would talk to her Spiritual Father; explain, give an excuse. No way she could live a healthy life that way. What had she done to herself?
Immediately after Rosa joined the spiritual group, she noticed that she was the last one to arrive. Had the others undergone similar experiences? She was sweating and nervous; her cheeks looked like two red apples. Her eyes looked like two black, shiny spheres on her pale face. Pai Antonio looked at her with curiosity and … understood. He knew she had seen --- him! She was pale but taller; frightened but changed forever. He was proud of his newbie. She had seen the darkest, living proof of … hell. Salve! She was now a true Medium, but she wasn’t aware of it yet. Oh such power within her --- how would she handle this knowledge in the smallest, innermost part of her soul? Would she be ready to deal with both sides --- Umbanda and Quimbanda? Was she apt and accessible? He stared at her and she looked right back at him, and smiled shyly, but he noticed her trembling lower lip and the tiny drops of sweat on her forehead. Was she prepared enough? Was she?
When Rosa Madalena finally arrived at her condominium it was way past 2 in the morning. She was tired and hungry, stressed and exhausted. She needed a long, warm shower and maybe some red wine with her sandwich. What a night! Making Offerings in a cemetery, of all things! She smelled of cigars and moonshine and there was a stale taste in her mouth. What would the neighbors think if they saw her dressed in a taffeta black blouse and a long, red skirt, and stinking of moonshine?
While climbing up the staircases to apartment 606-H, she noticed that there was a dim light coming from the end of the hall, which was almost always dark. As she walked down the long hall full of doors, Rosa observed that the light she had seen came from beneath her own door --- candle lights. A lightning crossed her heart and she stood still, paralyzed in front of her door. What was happening on the other side of the door? She knew she had turned the lights off but maybe … maybe she had forgotten to blow her scented candle out --- yes, that’s it! Of course it was that because she could smell apples coming from her door; a sweet mist. Yes, that’s the reason for the shimmering light coming from beneath her door. How silly of her to have forgotten to blow out her scented candle.
As soon as she opened the door she saw it--him, dark, magnificent and tall, standing right there, in the middle of her living room, the highest rank of all Angels created --- Lucifer! There was fire on his face. She took a deep breath; her heart missed a beat. She stared in total disbelief, her mouth wide open. He was dressed in black and red and he was wearing a long, red cape. He held a big, black fork in his left hand, and a crystal glass in his right hand, full of moonshine. He was so powerful, sensual and handsome, yet mysterious, dark and --- Oh so threatening. The energy in the room was so strong that she felt that she was going to faint, lose her mind. The hair in the back of her neck stood; goose bumps all over her body. She felt … as if her skin was peeling off and becoming like his, red and devilish and she wanted to take her clothes off as it was melting on her body. She heard voices, laughter, atabaque drums and chants but she couldn’t see where they were coming from. Was she going crazy? She immediately knew that the Crossroad entities were there with the Prince of Demons, and there were many of them --- needy, hungry, eager to serve in exchange of an Offering; to please you in your darkest of wishes. Stomping his heavy hooves on the floor like a giant goat, and moving his long, red fork-like tail, Satan walked in her direction, his long, black horns nearly touching the ceiling. He was so tall. He was the dark Prince of hell, the most powerful of all evil beings ever created in the universe. His dark, long wings were about 8 feet long; terrifying, he looked like a big, unearthly red bat, or dragon, or both. Rosa was petrified. He stood in front of her, breathing deeply, his chest, immense, his body emanating a sulfuric, disgusting smell. The great red one, the fallen angel of the abyss, carefully held her trembling chin with his big, twisted hand, looked right into her surprised face with his snake-like yellowish eyes, and whispered: “Salve!”
1 Trabalhos: works, spiritual works, Offerings;
2 Chefe de Cabeça: Spiritual Head Chief, spiritual boss, spiritual protector;
3 Seu Sete Encruzilhadas: Mister Seven Crossroads;
4 Cachaça: Brazilian moonshine;
5 Salve! (Portuguese):
a) an archaic word for save, in English: Hail;
b) a salutation, a greeting or acclamation.
6 Iemanjá: Yoruba language for Queen of the Ocean;
7 Babalorixá: Spiritual male leader of a Spiritual Center;
8 Pai: father, Spiritual Father;
9 Ialorixá: Spiritual female leader of a Spiritual Center;
10 Quimbanda: Black Magic; Voodoo rituals involving animal sacrifice and Exú spirits. (Umbanda: White Magic; rituals without animal sacrifice);
11 Candomblé: A religion based on African traditions with elements derived from Christianity, practiced chiefly in Brazil in Spiritual Centers, where the practice of Macumba (Voodoo Offerings) is the main objective.
12 Cigana: Miss Gypsy lady.