In the early 1980’s I had a dream that was exceedingly real, very intense, involving an aggressive, glowing red scorpion. I wrote nearly ten pages describing this scene. It was the beginning of a writing career that involved freelance article writing and attempts at developing myself as a writer of short stories.
When AOL came along I felt I’d written enough stories to seek an agent. I’d won the five-state Arrowhead Regional Fiction Competition with my story “The Breaking Point” and sent a batch of stories to an agent whose handle was PRQueen. Her response led to the creation of The Red Scorpion, my first novel.
She said, “Of the 200 writers I’ve read this year you are the best, but no major publisher will publish an unknown, unpublished short story writer. You have to write a novel. It’s another example of the dead fly in the ointment metaphor. Or, as Dylan once sang, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s some kind of pain.”
As I considered what to write about, I was motivated by a desire to create a story that teenaged boys would get into and not want to put down. I’d observed how boys weren’t reading as much as girls, so I needed an idea that boys would be eager to latch onto. Having been a teen once, I thought perhaps a haunted house story would be cool, amped by a supernatural element, the red scorpion from my dream.
My son was seven at this time, so I was hoping that if the stars lined up, maybe the kids in his high school would all my book in English class. This was motive enough for me, though it never panned out. After many rewrites it was 2005 before I was satisfied. Unfortunately, someone whose opinion I valued pricked my balloon. The concept is five star but the execution could be better.
I set it aside for six years and finally self-published 50 copies before placing it on Amazon as an eBook. Will it work to share it here on Medium? I do not know. It is my pleasure to give it a shot.
He woke abruptly, jostled to alertness by the screech of brakes and final recoil as the bus jerked to a stop. He was surprised to find that he had managed to fall asleep at all. The crowded bus included peasants with chickens, crying babies and a crush of people from all stations in life.
Dr. Comstock, glancing out the window, was dismayed to find the bus had not yet reached its destination. It was picking up more passengers, even though the aisle was now full. Several villagers squeezed up onto the steps, some hung out through the doors which remained open. The bus lurched forward, gears grinding.
A small boy eating a mango placed a sticky hand on the rail in front of Comstock’s knee. Comstock smiled at the boy, but the boy turned his face away. Comstock was a stranger and a foreigner. The boy had been trained not to trust him.
Once more the bus screeched to a stop. This time he could see they had arrived. It was the last leg of his journey, descending to Cuernavaca from the high altitudes of Mexico City. He was eager to begin his work.
Dr. Comstock, a professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, had come to Mexico to locate the final resting place of Quetzlcoatl, the plumed serpent of Aztec legend. This was Comstock’s second research expedition in Mexico. He intended to develop contacts that would enable him to obtain funding for a longer trip the following year. This being Christmas break back home at the University, the beginning of a long cold winter, he could think of nothing better than being in Cuernavaca. While arctic winds chilled the Minnesota countryside, flowers remained perpetually in bloom here in the land of Eternal Spring. Red and coral bougainvillea, lavender jacaranda, flaming poinciana, and golden geraniums splashed the air with color and fragrance. The floral tapestry delighted his eyes in every direction that he looked.
His wife Adele had wanted to join him, but he balked at the idea. Her presence would interfere with his work, he said. He promised she would accompany him on next year’s trip if they could find caretakers to run the Eagle’s Nest, the bed and breakfast they owned and operated.
Comstock had an angular face with deep set eyes and thick, dark eyebrows. He wore his hair cropped short. He felt he looked too British to pass for Mexican, though occasionally it worked out that way because he tanned easily and well.
Exhausted from the journey and relieved to have arrived at all, he carried his baggage the two blocks from the bus station to the hotel.
Comstock sat at an outdoor cafe adjacent to the main plaza, El Zocalo, sipping a large concoction of jugo de tamarindo, a sweet thick juice squeezed from the brown, beanlike fruit of the tamarind tree. His third day in Mexico, he had become increasingly aware of the passage of time. His first two days were spent in leisurely excursions about the city, consumed with a curiosity similar to a boy turning over fallen logs in the woods, seeking salamanders and snakes. Now he was becoming anxious about how to achieve his objective. The days would pass quickly. He berated himself for having already wasted two.
A small band of peasant musicians playing an assortment of primitive flutes, whistles and drums had gathered in the street in front of the cafe. A group of children began marching around in circles making whimsical movements, whimpering and bouncing like puppies overeager to see their masters. Another group of boys was working the tables selling Chiclets to the tourists.
Comstock recalled how the incessant begging had disturbed him during his first trip south of the border. By the time he left he had grown weary of the burros, mongrel dogs, roosters, strange smells, gritty eyeballs and clashing colors that seemed to throw themselves at him from every side. He was tempted to think that first trip had been a mistake and a preposterous waste of time.
Afterwards, however, Comstock missed Mexico immensely. He knew intuitively that one day he would return. He only needed an excuse. He found it in the legend of Quetzlcoatl, the plumed serpent.
According to native mythology Quetzlcoatl, also known as Yoalli ehecatl, was the third son of the Lord of Fire and Time. He was given to bring hope and light to the Nahuatl people in the same way his three brothers were given to three other peoples. When he betrayed his father, he was to be banished forever.
Comstock’s intent on this journey had been to find contacts who would be useful guides to the actual places where Quetzlcoatl was born, grew up, lived and died, even though legends said that the god/man simply “went away” and never died at all.
TO BE CONTINUED