"Mexican Folktale" by Benjamin Smith
Originally published in
My grandfather was a strange old man who told strange old stories. As a child I often haunted his study at night to hear him speak of people and places so bizarre – so arabesque – that my stimulated mind would later race feverishly in bed until morning. My grandmother yelled at him for inflaming my imagination but he never cared. The following night he would sit his thin and withered frame back down in his favorite leather chair, light his pipe, and tell another tale.
The following is one such of these.
“It was the late summer of 1913, I believe, when I received a letter from a friend of mine named Christopher Ross. He had been a professor of ancient history and archeology at Princeton. Earlier that year he had taken a long sabbatical and boarded a ship headed down to South America. His reason? Haven't the slightest. He was a bit eccentric – wore his hair like a dandy, read books by Alestair Crowley (especially that damned Book of the Law), wrote poems about gods and ghosts – and was given to caprices. As it was, he wrote in the letter that he had eventually made his way from Brazil to Mexico, and there discovered an idyllic village hidden on the Yucatan coast.
“Christopher stayed in this village with a man of little wealth and soon fell passionately for this man's daughter. The three of them spent their mornings fishing and gathering firewood, their evenings eating and talking around the fire. Christopher entertained with tales of his decadent youth while the man and daughter returned with local legends and folklore. This went on for a week or two before the girl took Christopher for a walk along the beach one night. Away from all other eyes they at last held hands, spoke in whispers, and kissed. The usual trash. Inspired not by Love or Beauty, if you ask me, but rather by Lust and Sentimentality, Christopher promised the girl he would marry her and take her back to the States. Of course she was overjoyed, but soon she began to cry. She couldn't leave her father, she said, because he was very old and wanted her present when his final hour approached. In a weird act of desperation (well, it seems weird to me), the girl promised to show Christopher an ancient vault further up the coast, halfway buried beneath the sand. She said this vault contained a kingdom of priceless Mayan treasure – as well as a ghost, which could be heard moaning and howling in anguish. If Christopher were brave enough to break into this vault and collect the treasure within, she believed, then he could quit his job at Princeton, move in with her and her father to a nearby villa, and enjoy a life of paradise beside the Gulf of Mexico.
“Knowing Christopher, it didn't surprise me that he accepted this challenge, and in September I received a second letter stating his intentions. That was the last I ever heard from him.
“Several months went by before Christopher's younger brother Charles made the arduous trip to this village. Once there he found the girl's father in a grave at the base of a palm tree, yet nothing of the girl or Christopher. He questioned the local fishermen to learn that the two had last been seen walking along the beach one sunset with shovels and bags. Thunder rattled the peaceful twilight soon after, the fishermen said, and then an incredible storm struck from further up the coast. The force of this storm smashed houses and boats back to pieces of wood, and killed dozens of people – including the girl's father, who was found face down in the water – before continuing out to sea. Since they never returned, Christopher and the girl were naturally added to the casualty list.
“And that's where the story ends.
“Or rather, that's almost where the story ends. Charles later told me after glasses of wine that when he left the village, one of the fishermen followed him out. He didn't say much more to Charles other than this: that everyone in the village had known where the two were going because the vault's location was common knowledge. However, it had always remained untouched because it was the burial tomb of Huracán, the ancient Mayan god of storms.”
Benjamin James Smith is a writer and editor living in Maine and writing a novel about Soviet time-travel schemes.