A Diamond in the Rough

Another story!  This one is for a contest.  Mostly, it’s just practice and fun…but I love a little challenge.  This is the unedited version, i.e. the first draft.  So mind minor mistakes but enjoy the story.  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres of literature to read.  So naturally I jumped at the opportunity to write a little bit of it.  I figured with Halloween being the nearest holiday, with the exception of Labor Day of course, I’d write something to do with that.  Dia de los Muertos is the Hispanic Halloween and has been around at least since the Spanish Conquistadors discovered the native Aztec and Mayan Indians celebrating it.  So anyways…just read and enjoy!

Dia de los Muertos

1519

He stepped through the thick brush of the Mexican jungle.  The Mexican Elder trees and Mexican Fan Palm trees were thick and the underbrush kept grabbing at his ankles as he slashed through the undergrowth.  The eleven Spanish Galleons carrying five hundred and fifty soldiers and sailors as well as sixteen horses had set anchor on the tropical beach of San Juan de Ulua only days before.  Hernan Cortes himself was amongst them.  Felipe was a Spanish Conquistador and had been assigned the mission ordered by Queen Isabella I herself.

Since that day on the beach they had camped on the dunes but Cortes was not one to waste time.  Felipe and his fellow soldiers set foot to the jungle almost immediately.  Days had passed.  The jungle was humid and the air was hot and thick.  As he brushed against a vine a red and black striped beetle crawled down his arm.  Felipe was unsure of this strange beetle.  The creatures and insects he had seen here were not like any he had seen at home in Spain.  Spiders that measured as large as a man’s hand.  Illusive big black panthers and large fat snakes as long as a Galleon itself lurked in the shadows.  As they hacked their way through the thick undergrowth monkeys threw nuts and fruit down from the trees.  One hit Felipe square on his helmet.  The men dressed in their thick shiny armor and pointy silver helmets stopped for a break.  A faint pulsating beat could be heard in the distance.

“Shhhhhh,” Felipe said turning to the soldier behind him. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” said Roberto.

As they waited a distant drumming filled their ears.  Felipe swallowed hard.

“We must be getting close to a civilization.  They may be hostile.”  Felipe warned.

“We must tell Cortes!”  Roberto said.

Walking through the thick gathering of silver armored men Felipe made his way to Cortes.

“Sir…” said Felipe.

Cortes was quick and to the point.  He waved his hand to silence Felipe.

“Did you hear that?  Cortes asked.  “It sounds as if we have reached some sort of civilization.  Natives could be anywhere spying on us already.  We must be careful.”  He said.

“Yes, sir” Felipe replied.

“Felipe, go and scout this people.  If you do not return we will attack.  Rapido!”

“Si, Senor Cortes.”  Felipe replied.

Grabbing his musket, Felipe began his journey.  Not knowing what he would find he moved his right hand over his forehead, then down and across his chest in the likeness of a cross.  Hours had passed and Felipe made his way following the beating of the drums.  Night fell and he decided to set up camp.  Grabbing some vines and fan palm leaves, Felipe made a makeshift hammock to sleep on.  Bugs swarmed at his feet and as the sun sank lower he thought it a good idea to get off the ground.

He was woken from sleep by the sound of branches breaking.  Something was coming near him.  Startled he grabbed his musket.  The fire he had lit earlier had since gone out and in the darkness he could barely make out the dark figure that was coming near him.

“Parada!”  Felipe said as he naturally tried to command the figure coming to stop.

Before he could ready his musket he felt a hard thump on the back of his head and then blacked out.

When Felipe finally awoke from being knocked out he startled to find himself surround by several Aztec natives.  They looked at him curiously and fondled his strange silver clothes.  Felipe startled and tried to stand.

“No! You will sit!”  A native pushed him back down.

Taken aback, Felipe couldn’t believe he could actually partially understand their language.  He looked around. He saw a village partially hidden by the dense trees and tall grass.  Little brown huts with grass roofs were clustered together.  Women sat outside their doors preparing food.  Beautiful orange marigolds were gathered in beautiful bouquets.  Skulls were everywhere.  Skeletons decorated with the strange orange flowers sat out.  Food sizzled in primitive skillets.  Loaves of bread were set out.  Children ran in and out of the little huts.  Women gathered around grave sites with food and flowers as if honoring the dead.  Could this be a ceremony?  As he sat tied to a stake Felipe remembered his own celebrations at home.  This was the time of year where the dead were honored.  Spirits came back to visit.  Could this be the same? He thought.

An elderly woman walked toward Felipe carrying bread and fruit.  She sat next to him and set the food in his lap.  Nodding her head she pointed to the food and then to Felipe.  It had been days since he had eaten and he was starving.  The woman turned to leave.

“Perdón, mujer.”  Felipe said to the woman.  He was relieved when she turned around.

“Excuse me, what is this celebration?” He asked

“Dia de los Muertos.  We are celebrating our dead.  Their spirits come to visit.  We bring them food and flowers…things they liked while they were living.  Death is a continuation of life to us.”  She said.

As she spoke Felipe looked around and munched on the bread.  Its nutty flavor brought him satisfaction.  He was pleased that the berries and sweet figs complimented the bread.  The woman offered him a drink.  It was bitter but refreshing.  Why is she so kind?  He thought.

“Come.”  She said.  She untied him from the stake.

They walked through the village.  Children laughed and ran as they chased each other.  Women looked up from their work as they gazed at him inquisitively.  Native men practiced throwing their spears.  They wore nothing but a cloth to cover their loins.  They passed what looked like an altar.  Could he be a sacrifice?  Felipe’s heart pounded.  The woman simply pointed to the altar.

“Here is where we honor the dead.  This altar is very symbolic.”  Later Felipe would come to realize the importance of this altar and the tradition of family and history it represented.  They came to the edge of the forest.

“Go.”  Said the woman.  Tell your people to bring an offering.

Felipe took a few steps forward and then turned around.  The woman had disappeared.  Could she have been a spirit?  He took a deep breath then ran deep into the jungle to his fellow soldiers.  He explained to Cortes of the natives and their celebration.

“We will convert them.”  Cortes replied.

Felipe remembered the kind woman.  Were they really that much different from themselves?  He thought not.

And that’s exactly what the Spanish tried to do.  They tried to eradicate Dia de los Muertos or ‘Day of the Dead.’  Almost five hundred years later the Mexican people still celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

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