Children of Itzamná
by Carmelo rafala
Issue 4: faith | 4,996 words
After the war the flesh traders came.
Low-grade tech dealers responded by setting up stalls in villages and towns to make personality backups of the little children and sell them in jewelry to frightened parents for a modest fee.
Those who couldn’t afford a backup begged for one on their knees. Mothers bawled “Save my babies!” while angry fathers beat their chests and pulled their hair…
Jorge Ortega, Aftermath
Our automated limo came to a stop at the last security zone.
“Now play the part, Malinal,” I said, fingers casually running down the front of my strapless bodice. “That’s all you have to do. Stay calm. No smart-mouthing. Don’t look me in the eyes. Sit straight, shoulders back. Remain a step behind me, and no assertive posturing; it’s a dead giveaway when your chupacabra begins to growl.”
Malinal glowered at me. “I’m thirteen, Papan, but I’m not stupid.”
She turned away and I knew she caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the glass. I saw a tremor of revulsion pass through her at the sight of her own luminous blue eyes, the sheen of her perfect bronze skin shimmering in the Yucatán sun, and the elaborate colored swirling patterns stitched into and carved across her transformed body.
Like Jago was.
Like you were, Adalia…
Images invaded my memory—us playing on the Tulum beaches, collecting shells, building palaces of sand, and letting the waves dance at our feet. Happier times.
Pain pulsed behind my eyes. I reached up and stroked my temples with both index fingers. Malinal watched me with a pensive, curious look.
“I never said you were stupid, Malinal,” I said. “Anyone who can hack into a Bastard data-node and extract such detailed information is not stupid. But you need discipline.”
“You keep saying that.”
“These are the Bastards of Magdeleine. Mérida is their city. You don’t simply walk into their midst and kidnap merchandise.”
She swallowed hard. “You said you could do it!” Her chupacabra stirred, wrapped its furry arms about her waist, and chattered furiously at her sudden outburst. About the size and shape of a lemur, the creature clung to her possessively, looking out at me with large, dark eyes.
Chupacabras and aggression don’t mix. I’d once witnessed this fact at a party when one demonstrated its aversion to belligerence by rearing up and chewing the face off its pubescent owner. The poor kid obviously hadn’t settled well into his new identity. I only hoped his parents had paid for a backup.
“Getting your brother’s living body back depends on you,” I said. “Are you going to act like my merchandise?”
Fear settled on her. I could smell it. She was no longer the brassy girl who strode up to me in Motul, as yet unchanged by the blood-waters, demanding my services, paying me half my fee up front, monies ripped from personal accounts with shitty firewalls and uninspired passwords.
“Either we do this right, Malinal, or we walk away. There’s always a choice.”
“You keep saying that as well.” She breathed deeply and clutched at her chest, feeling for the pendant. Jago’s backup. Her father had given it to her, she’d said, before putting a gun in his mouth.
Malinal squeezed the pendant hard, knuckles white. When she opened her hand, an impression lay etched on her palm: Itzamná, ruler of heaven and healing.
I looked to the sky, to the Bondi Platform hanging above the city. Up there that fat man Zorislav Durakovic, an influential businessman from Sarajevo and patron of the city’s Carnival, would dine with his intimates for five days and nights.
My hands brushed my belt—a scattering field that concealed the gun strapped to my inner thigh from the prying electronics of the security checkpoints. My elaborate dress hid more weapons in its adornments.
I thought of you, Adalia, and a pang of guilt gripped my heart. Malinal might just see Jago again. But I’d never get you back, beloved sister. We’d never be a family again.
Four armed soldiers moved toward our car.
“Okay,” I leaned forward. “This is the final security check. We do this as rehearsed, or these guys will kill us right here.”
A gloved hand knocked on the window.
The security office was a small, damp room with one tinted window, paint peeling off the concrete, and minimal lighting. Somewhere in the walls a lavatory pipe was leaking. The room smelled of piss.
Outside was a large clearing about half a mile in diameter and ringed by desolate buildings, which stood like battered sentinels. The Platform, now stationary, took up a sizable chunk of sky. Directly beneath, four
“We have one computer servicing this entire tower,” said the man across the desk. “It could be an hour or more.”
“Unacceptable!” I sat, solid as ice, hands clasped together as if in prayer. “Do you even know who you’re speaking to?”
“A Daughter of the Minor House of Majahual,” said the man, sweating. “But I have no record of your entrance to Motul, no record of you crossing the border from Quintana Roo. So, if you’ll forgive me, I need to run a check—” His eyes burst inward and his head whipped back.
From my clasped hands I’d launched two golden spikes into his brain. Blood poured out of his eyeholes, down his cheeks. His white shirt caught the flow, soaking up the crimson.
Malinal retched and hugged her chupacabra close. The creature nuzzled her and cooed.
I leaped from my chair and, taking the man’s forefinger, pushed his fingerprint onto the screen in a box marked “Approved,” then hit “Enter.”
At the far end of the room was an unused elevator. Having studied the layout of this building, I knew it led underground to what was once an employee parking garage. I forced open the door, dumped his body down the empty shaft, and turned to
She put a hand to her mouth and gagged.
“Don’t you throw up,” I said. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
She mumbled something.
“I want my uncle,” she swallowed.
It was a brief moment of weakness for her, but one that reminded me she was—despite all the posturing—still just a kid.
“I don’t care if you want your fairy fucking godmother.” I moved toward the door. “A little late to be getting soft, Malinal. And your uncle is probably looking for you right now—not that he’d recognize you like that.”
Her resolve returned. An angry chill flashed through her cheeks. “So I can grow up like you?”
I raised an eyebrow at her colorful, twisted form. “I can think of worse things to be.”
The smell of sour earth and burnt ozone hovers about the blood-waters of a cenote. Sometimes, if you’re patient and look hard enough, you can see semi-translucent threads in the crimson—curling, twisting fingers from the otherwhere, still trying to push their way in to our world.
An effect of the war, they say…
Jorge Ortega, Aftermath
The Platform’s ballroom was full of VIPs, some masked, all wearing elaborate costumes for Carnival.
Scanning the crowds below from our vantage point on the mezzanine, I spotted him easily: Zorislav Durakovic. An impressive gathering followed the portly man like a devout congregation; painted ones of both sexes, an entourage of patterns and colors, remained two steps behind him, fanning backward in an iridescent wave, while chupacabras perched on shoulders like gargoyles. His bodyguards stood at strategic locations, two at each elbow, four others orbiting around like satellites.
“Remember,” I whispered, “it’s been five years since they took him and changed him. It may be difficult to spot him at first.”
“He is my brother. I’ll recognize him.”
“You’d better, for your sake. No plan is foolproof, Malinal. Timing is going to be important.”
Malinal’s chupacabra, mounted on her shoulders, muttered. Her elongated fingers, studded with tiny raised welts of varying
Malinal had courage despite her age. She’d done what I could never do, Adalia—become merchandise. She willingly submersed herself in the blood-waters, had her body twisted and reshaped into vibrant alien contours, and now exists with that thing crawling over her, fixed like a virus.
She was undisciplined. She was afraid. But she had guts, Adalia, and she had trust in me. Just as you once did, trust that I’d always be there for you, trust that we’d never be parted.
You know I could never let it go, Adalia. You know it had to be done…
I watched as Durakovic and his painted ones passed beneath us on their way to the dining hall.
“Papan, my brother.”’
“What?” I whispered, turning to her.
I remember when they took you, Adalia, grabbed you off the streets. Someone shouted a warning. The flesh traders were coming. Adults seized what children they could and ran; others took up bricks or segments of piping.
I hid in the brush near a communal toilet block set back from the road and watched as you dashed for the safety of a crumbling shack.
You never made it.
Adults shouted insults and hurled their weapons at the passing truck. A man leaned out the passenger side window and sprayed the street with bullets.
And in all those years I’d never been close to finding out where they’d taken you, or if your body was even still alive.
Pulling yourself from the blood-waters, you’d break through the membrane surrounding your new body. And you’d vomit out the baby creature, almost breaking your jaw. The chupacabra squeals and thrashes on the stones, muscles and tendons showing, slick and glistening with blood.
And it lifts its arms up to you, like a small child, and grips your bare legs with tiny, bloody hands, and hisses, and clicks its teeth.
And it will grow to become the guarantor of your obedience.
Nadia Reyes, Interview: A Painted One Speaks
My eyes scanned the ballroom again, noting the number of armed staff, the various exits. Escape pods clung to the outer rim of the Platform; the elevation pods were underneath, secured in its belly.
I wasn’t worried about getting lost. My eidetic memory wouldn’t allow it. A combination of innate skill and learned tactic, the memory of my journey through the Platform was as detailed and as vivid as you.
I pretended to watch the guests milling about the ballroom. To escape, to quietly steal away under the Mexican moonlight below was not part of my plan. Never was.
“I suppose it was a gamble, Papan,” she muttered. “There was never any real guarantee Jago would be here.”
I knew she’d probably want to leave now. I needed to stall for time.
“The data you extracted was precise,” I said. “He’s here.” My temples throbbed. I rubbed them with my fingers.
She cocked her head at me. “Papan. Are you okay?”
“It’s a big Platform,” I said, brushing her question aside. “There are other places he could be. We stick to the plan.”
“You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine.” I gripped her arm, firmly, and hurried her through the corridors, away from the ballroom and deeper into the Platform. Ahead was an access hatch, the one cutting off Durakovic’s penthouse chambers from the rest of the dignitaries’ rooms. Two guardsmen, dressed in black, stood on either side of the door.
My free hand brushed across my dress and in one swift motion pulled off a metallic adornment—two thin cylinders—a double-barrelled blow dart. I raised it to my mouth and shot both guards in the neck. They struggled for only a moment as the zombie drug slammed through them, paralyzing while keeping them conscious.
Removing the darts, I rummaged through a guard’s pockets and tossed Malinal a silver encryption shard. “Open the hatch.” She obeyed. The iris door opened like the shutter of a camera and I pushed her across the threshold.
Feeding off her tension the chupacabra grew anxious and climbed up on her back. Blood trickled down her blouse in thin red lines as its claws pricked her flesh. She bit her lip.
And then a sound. The bathroom door opened. A guard came out. I pulled a long filament from the threads of my dress, cracked it like a whip, and snapped it diagonally down his body. There was a look of shock on the guard’s face as his top half slid off. It hit the floor with a wet smack.
Malinal threw up over a leather chair.
“Papan—” She dry-heaved. “What the fuck!”
I tossed the wire down, reached between my legs, and pulled out the gun, silencer fixed to the barrel. I clicked off the safety.
Anger framed her cheeks. “Papan,” she cried out. “You tell me what you’re planning, or—” A deep snarl stopped her. She looked sideways over her shoulder. The creature had reached around, mouth near her ear, teeth glistening.
She took a few deep breaths and gripped a chair for support.
And then her face changed, eyes focused and sharp. I followed her gaze as it shifted to a chamber door across the room.
I leveled the gun and pushed her across the room toward the door; her chupacabra grumbled and ducked down to her waist.
“Open it,” I said.
Beyond the door was a lavish bedchamber, and in the center was a giant bed. Six painted ones reclined in various states of dress. Some sat up. Others remained still. All watched us with shocked expressions. Chupacabras stared from shoulder perches. I lowered my gun.
“Is he here?” I asked. “Your brother.”
Strange and utterly alien eyes—eyes filled with fear—stared at me from painted faces. The same fear I saw in your eyes, Adalia, when they took your living body away, changed you, sold you. Sold you to Durakovic.
I can only imagine what he did to you before slitting your throat and tossing your body from the top of his penthouse in Vienna.
I stared back at the painted figures on the bed. I hesitated for only a moment, then gunned them down.
Without companions, their chupacabras squealed in agony and died.
“You didn’t have to kill them!”
“I did them a favor,” I said. “Believe me.”
“And what kind of favor will I get?”
“They didn’t pay me. You did. Get your brother and I get you both off the peninsula. That was the deal you bought.”
“And what the fuck do we do now?”
“We wait. Here. He’ll come sooner or later.”
“What do you mean, ‘he’ll come?” Her eyes lit up and she stood straight, the brassy girl from Motul once again. “You’re right about one thing—I’m not stupid,” she said, chupacabra howling with madness. “You wanted the prestige of breaking into a Bastard stronghold, you said. But you’re after Durakovic, aren’t you?”
“Oh, well done.”
“You used me!”
Malinal shuddered with that bitter knowledge. Her chupacabra darkened, furs standing up along its arched back. It looked at her with black, penetrating eyes and let loose an unholy growl.
“It’s the flesh traders you want, Papan. They supply the demand—”
“The traders may have taken my sister, but Durakovic created the demand, back in Sarajevo. That’s where my trail went cold. You were my chance to get close to him.”
Pain again behind my eyes, and I put a hand up to my head, as if to push you aside, Adalia.
“Head hurt, does it?” she said. “Papan, I know.”
“You know shit.”
She took a slow step toward me. “I know what’s going on. Where your sister really is,” she touched my forehead, “and she’s in there, isn’t she? You put her in there. But somehow you’re still here.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed.”
“She should’ve displaced you.”
I felt anger at the tears forming in my eyes.
“Must’ve compartmentalized herself, somehow,” she continued, “somewhere in your head. Doesn’t often happen.”
“So I’m a rarity. But if you’re thinking I’m some sort of freak show, you haven’t looked in the mirror lately.”
She frowned. “If you want justice, then live to spite them. That would be justice. This is madness!”
I flung her arm away. “What do you know of justice, little girl? Or madness.”
She gripped her pendant. “Jago’s living body is not here. I sacrificed my body for a chance to save him. But that doesn’t mean I want to die!”
“The risk was always there.”
“No! That wasn’t the bargain. You made a deal, you’d get me through this, you’d get me off the peninsula. I trusted you!”
“Time to grow up, Malinal.”
“Grow up?” she shrieked, “grow up?” Her chupacabra chattered, claws flexed, kneading her already bloodied shoulders. She cried out, took a few slow breaths to calm down.
“How old was your sister when they took her?” she asked.
“Okay. Six years old, Papan, and in your head your sister will always be six years old, and you want to make a suicide run and take her with you. That sound
My hand swung outward and she went crashing to the floor. Her creature squealed.
“That’s right, Papan,” she said calmly, sitting up, “become the thing you despise most. Why don’t you get yourself a hundred painted ones and beat the shit out of them, too!”
“Best shut your mouth, girl, or I’ll shut it for you!”
“This isn’t about your sister. It isn’t about Durakovic. It’s about a grown woman who can’t deal with shit. It’s about your guilt, Papan. It’s about you!”
I shoved my gun in her face. “Last chance!”
“Yes,” she said, more bravely than I expected. “For all of us.”
My finger slid across the trigger.
“Papan, if you think—” and her eyes tracked beyond me to the other side of the room. I spun around.
There was a bug on the wall.
It was black, two centimeters long. A
Then it spoke, “I know what you’re trying to do.”
A sonic explosion filled the room, tore through my cranium. My legs crumpled, the floor came up and hit my face, and a black wave of unconsciousness quickly drowned me.
The disintegration of normal political structures was total. City-states ruled by cartels rose to fill the void. Skilled and technologically savvy, they protect their interests with venom, view each other with deep suspicion, and often switch allegiances between themselves as quickly as you or I might change our shirt.
But none are more dangerous than the Bastards of Magdeleine, who rule Mérida with an iron fist…
Miguel DeJesus, The Americas: A Model of Power and Survival
I awoke to voices and the rattle of a chain.
“What did you think you’d achieve, Malinal…” Deep baritone. A man’s voice.
“…how can you ask me that? I came to…”
“…the Bastards picked up your intrusion the moment you hacked their systems. You never had a chance, girl.”
I pushed myself up on to my hands. “
“Your friend’s awake.” A different voice. Tenor. Young. Male.
Malinal stood at the center of a large, empty room, looking over her shoulder at me. I noticed a figure near her, robed in black. The baritone. Next to him was the owner of the other voice, an image corrupted by the dark specter of a chupacabra upon his shoulder.
She’d found her brother.
Or rather, he’d found her.
Jago held my gun in one hand, barrel facing the decking. In the other
Malinal turned back to the robed man. “Uncle Guillermo, what are you doing here? What did you do?”
“What I had to do.”
As I got to my feet I realized my jewelry was gone, my dress stripped of its
“They’ve disarmed you,” the boy said without looking at me.
I snorted. “Oh, really?”
He ignored me and raised the gun, aiming it at the man. The swirling patterns on his face seemed to grow darker. “Uncle, answer Malinal. Go on. Tell her. You owe her that much.”
It was then I noticed the metallic collar around Padré Guillermo’s throat, and the chain hanging just behind his shoulder. It attached to a floor bolt next to his feet.
“And what would you have me say?” the Padré said. “The war left us with nothing. We must finance ourselves. The conflict almost bankrupted the Holy See.”
“You sold your own flesh and blood!” Jago snapped. His chupacabra hissed in warning. “Tell her about the orphanage.”
Orphanage? Outside the
“So the Bastards offered you a solution,” I said, “and you took it. Selling
“Uncle!” Malinal put her hands to her mouth. “And papa?”
“Your father never knew.” The Padré looked at the barrel of the gun, at Jago. “I didn’t have a choice.”
“You were undercutting the flesh traders,
“—and you’re not the first bounty hunter to stand here.” His face was red, as though straining with some inner truth.
Jago clicked off the gun’s safety. A guttural sound rose up from the creature on his shoulder.
Malinal flinched. “Jago, stop!”
“Classic case of wrong place, wrong time,” I said. “For Jago. Is that it?”
The Padré stared hard at me. “They demand. I supply. What could I do? Tell me! What could I do?”
I shrugged. “Why, sell the very ones you’re entrusted to protect, of course.”
“All I did,” Jago said, “was come home from school—”
“You never answered her question, Padré,” I said, brusquely. “How did you come to be here?”
The Padré remained silent.
“Oh, go on, holy man,” I prodded. “Don’t stop now.” I leaned forward. “Confession is good for the soul.”
“I asked for him,” Jago said. “I want it to end. I begged them to let me end it. Like this!” He pushed the gun in the Padré’s face. Jago’s chupacabra growled, bared its teeth, sunk its claws into his flesh. Jago winced, gasped.
“Jago, no!” Malinal screeched. Her own chupacabra let lose a sympathetic wail. “He should be punished, God knows. But not like this. Not murder.”
“Why not? He killed me the day he let them take me away. He killed papa. And what about you, Malinal?” his voice trembled. “This has to stop.”
“It can stop,” she said. “Leave uncle. Come with me. You can forget about what’s happened.” She motioned to me with an arm. “Tell him, Papan, please.”
“Jago listen,” I said. “I can get you both out of the city, off the peninsula. It’s all set up.”
“You see, Jago,”
“No, no you don’t understand.” Jago teetered between anguish and despair.
And you sensed something in his voice, Adalia, something desperate, something true…
I looked at Malinal, then Jago. I dreaded the words before he even spoke them.
“This backup is not mine, Malinal.” He held it out to her. “It’s yours.”
Time stopped. Seconds of stillness. Malinal’s face lit up with horror and she doubled over, as though she’d been poleaxed.
As she fell to her knees, I pulled the metallic implant from my finger socket—triggering the mechanism—and threw it at the
It exploded on contact.
Last year it was reported that an estimated 746 children were stolen on the Yucatan peninsula. This is a sharp increase on previous years.
Bonita Vasquez, The New Flesh
A klaxon sounded somewhere.
I grabbed Malinal’s arm, lifted her up. “Let’s go!”
She looked to her brother, pleadingly, but he shook his head, sorrow framing his bright yellow eyes.
“After they killed you the first time,” Jago said, “they destroyed my backup. And took yours from me.” He held the pendant up again. “Five times you’ve come, thinking to bring me this. And five times I’ve watched you die.”
“Why?” she said. “I don’t understand—”
His eyes, his beautiful painted eyes, leaked silver tears. “Because you’d got it in your head you could save me.”
“You’re just some urchin they picked up off the street, girl,” said the Padré.
“They’re very sportive,” I said, “those Bastards of Magdeleine.”
Jago pulled back the hammer. “
“Jago,” she said, “please. Don’t. I’m still her. I’m still your
“He wants to die,” I said, and I heard myself—oh God, I heard myself—unemotional, ice-cold, professional.
“Papan, please!” she wailed.
“Jago…” I said, but the boy shook his head again. His chupacabra’s growl became a diabolical whine, an alien noise rising to fill the air.
“Jago!” She struggled but I pulled her close, gripped her head with both hands and turned her face away. Her chupacabra howled and wrapped its arms around her torso.
Uncle Guillermo was chanting now the
“Yes,” Jago said, pushing the gun against the Padré’s head, “oh, yes. In the name of the Father.”
A shot sounded.
… Sources have recently informed me that, seeing potential revenue streams in the burgeoning Eastern Eurasian slave market, the Bastards of Magdeleine have seized control of the cenote at San Ignacio.
Bonita Vasquez, The New Flesh
The pod rested in the center of a burnt patch of long grass some fifty miles outside the city. I hurried Malinal through the field, her chupacabra hugging her waist, chattering.
Blood. There’d been so much blood. Jago’s creature tore into his living body. The sound of shredding flesh still lingered in my ears, and the crimson splatter had crept so slowly across the floor…
And as the beast devoured him, sliced flesh and crunched bone, Jago never made a sound.
When it had finished, his chupacabra reared up and died.
We reached a dirt road. A few meters ahead sat the truck, ghostly in silver moonlight, bang on time. My contact was in the driver’s seat, waiting.
“Here’s where we part company,” I said. “My man will take you as far as Quibdó, in Colombia. You know where to go from there.”
“I know. And thank you.”
“You sure you’re okay?”
Malinal opened her palm to reveal the pendant. She had gripped it tightly as I had dragged her out to the pod, her gaze inward the whole time during our escape, as though looking to some other world.
There was a great deal she had to take in, Adalia, much to reckon. And she did it with courage, without tears, without fear.
“I don’t know,” she said, softly. “And you?”
I turned to go.
“Papan,” she called. I stopped and pivoted around on my heel.
“Would you really have killed me?” she asked.
My voice left me, and in the silence between
I sensed you waiting, Adalia, expectantly.
“You’re alive,” I said. “I’ve kept my end of the bargain.”
Malinal stared at the pendant, fingers stroking its carved features, features not unlike the patterns of her own twisted skin.
“Papan, please. Come with us,” she said, “and live. Live for her.”
And you spoke to me, Adalia, of the streets where we used to play, of the quiet beaches where we once collected seashells and built castles in the sand, while the blue ocean gently kissed our feet. You spoke of happier times…
“This is all I know,” I said, not so much to her as to you, Adalia. “And Durakovic is still out there. How can I simply let go? How can I live any other life?”
Malinal looked to the far horizon, then walked to the truck, opened the door, and stopped and turned to face me.
Malinal’s eyes glistened with hope.
“There’s always a choice,” she said.
Carmelo Rafala’s previous work has appeared in the anthologies Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R Delany (Rosarium), Everyone: Worlds Without Walls (Starship Sofa), The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack (Wildside Press), and other places.