His mother wailed again. Nighttime darkness continued to descend, and the wind stayed its brutal course at Father’s funeral. Mother Juana hadn’t noticed the spirit of a man cloaked in light beside Gabriél. He wasn’t Gabriél’s father. He was more than a man; he was everything that Father was and more. Through the corner of his eyes, Gabriél saw the white-bearded old man. In many ways, in many forms, I will come. The words were close as heartbeats and breath. He knew if he turned and looked directly at him, the man would disappear. The light was intense, like rays of the sun. The old man had something to say.
Suddenly, unclean sounds went into Gabriél’s ears and chest—crackling and squealing voices rising from under the earth and into his body, trying to block out the lingering presence of the old man and his words. Like a god, the white-bearded man lifted his right hand, fingers spread. The noise went up from the ground into his palm, a mighty hand with powerful magic.
Gabriél’s mind became silent as a windless autumn night, magic making him still inside, just like he was when in his bedroom reading alone. The old man was strong and made what was bad cease. Even as the underworld racket stopped, the graveyard winds kept up their awful screams.
The quiet of the man and the moment wrapped strong and warm arms around Gabriél. Invisibility stood guard around the old man. Mother could not see him. No one could see him. He was there only for Gabriél. He bent down beside Gabriél and touched his shoulder. A crystal clear calm made the shrieking wind and the crying women and the priest’s strange prayers seem far, far away.
Mother’s red hair blew in the wind like it was on fire. It didn’t scare Gabriél because of the old man, his warm and solid hands steady on Gabriél’s shoulders. His kind eyes said he was ten thousand times ten-thousand-years old. His mother’s red hair and shrieking prayers no longer scared him.
Then the old man spoke, and through Gabriél’s mind sent a message, LISTEN... WHEN THE DAY GOES AWAY AND THE NIGHT COMES, REMEMBER I AM HERE. He touched Gabriél’s heart. LISTEN.
Gabriél’s mother abruptly glanced down at him. He looked into her eyes and knew she hadn’t heard the old man, but she had a squint in her eyes. Her eyes glowed red, and the old man’s hands did not move from Gabriél’s shoulders.
Big branches from the cottonwoods cast long moon shadows over the grave. Now they looked like skinny people scratching at each other, cloaking the old man. The wind picked up its screeching.
Gabriél’s heart pounded like stampeding horses.
Mother squeezed his hand. His fingers tangled together, tips burning with pain. Then she looked away and wailed more loudly than ever.
The old man continued, TELL NO ONE ABOUT ME. I WILL HELP YOU AS A BOY. I WILL HELP YOU AS A MAN. LISTEN. The old man motioned again to Gabriél’s heart and then touched between Gabriél’s eyes, the brow point.
The old man stopped and looked up.
Gabriél caught his mother’s gaze.
She’d seen the old man, pointed at him, and screeched like the evil winds.
Blistering dust and grit blinded Gabriél. He pulled his hand away from his mother and rubbed his eyes and tried to clear them, but when he looked again, squinting, he saw that the light of the old man had vanished.
His mother was wrapped in a cloud of dust. Out of the cloud came a coyote, foam curling from its mouth. It howled, and an instant later legions of dust devils took over the landscape and swallowed it in clouds of dust, trash, and tumbleweeds.
Mother reappeared beside him and picked him up. She screeched with a million hateful voices. His heart beat rapidly, fluttered like a flock of sparrows flying away. Catching his breath was hard.
“The night plays tricks,” his mother seethed, her breath hot and rank.
The winds suddenly ceased. Brown and gray clouds gave way to blackness that closed in and covered the full moon. Spirits of children rose out of their graves. They pointed at Gabriél and his mother. Their hands and fingers grew and reached to grab him, take him away under the earth.
Mother swept her black shawl over Gabriél. She whispered, “I will protect you, mijo.”
They escaped into the jet-black night.
Paul DeBlassie III, Ph.D., is a psychologist and award-winning writer living in his native New Mexico, crafting visionary thrillers energized with trickster mischief and natural magic.