Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mountain Augury, Part 3 of 3 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #311
  
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Ah, here comes the ending. All will be revealed. Time to pick up the pace a little. You’ll remember that Teo Oxley, hired to restore two frescoes in a mountain mission, has been wrestling with a phantom in his dreams and observing mysterious shadows in the daylight. He’s lost a lot of his fear but is frustrated because he feels the specter is trying to deliver a message… a message he has not been able to decipher.
*****
MOUNTAIN AUGURY

AUGURY: (o’gye re) n. – The art or practice of divination from omens or signs (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary)

Rodrigo went to work moving the disassembled scaffolding from the nave into the narthex while I considered the second fresco. If anything, it was more dynamic, more dramatic than the larger painting. In the foreground, San Pedro, still exhibiting obvious Indian blood, suffered his martyrdom in the traditional manner. His cross was inverted; his agony, tangible. Priests and soldiers and Indian shamans and sheep and horses stood at a respectful distance to suffer with their Saint. Above them all, a distant, gentle Jesus looked sadly down upon the crucifixion of his Apostle.
A scrabbling in the corner heralded the puckering of my flesh and the tickling of my nose. The presence was back. He was always stronger in the narthex. Momentarily unable to confront him, I fled into the nave and helped Rodrigo carry the last of the scaffolding. By the time we returned to the narthex, the phantom had retired restlessly to the far corner. Warily, I helped my young assistant erect the gigantic tinker toy that would support us as we worked on the fresco.
That night, he appeared the moment I slipped over the edge of tortured sleep. The dark, amorphous presence from another dimension took on definition and light. Absent the cloak and cowl, a white cotton shirt glowed eerily, unnaturally. Rude cotton trousers. Huaraches, open-toed sandals. His being took on the color of the earth and then lightened with a tinge of rose. For the first time, the face clearly appeared in all its manly strength. I gasped as that strange scent without odor tickled my nostrils.
He hovered before one of my photos of the frescoes I’d pinned to the hut’s rude walls. A ghostly hand moved across the surface and hovered at the lower right corner of the photograph as a strange sigh filled the hut.
He gestured again toward the photo before vanishing as I slowly surfaced from the land of dreams, exposed and shivering in the cold. I lay awake the remainder of the night fretting over the meaning of my dream.
***
Given the lessons learned on the first fresco, work on the second progressed faster than I had hoped. Things were relatively quiet until the final phase of the work, the retouching. Even this was expedited because I had existing supplies of the paints created for the first fresco. As I carefully worked on an agonized St. Peter hanging upside down on his cross, I sensed a presence on the scaffold with me other than Rodrigo, who was carefully retouching the background. He was here, suffering with the Saint, experiencing the pain of the nails, the horror of approaching death. Could my shade be the Saint, himself?
A spasm seized my right hand, causing me to drop my brush and cry aloud. Rodrigo rushed to my side, concern written across his features.
“It’s okay,” I said, rubbing my hand vigorously. “Had a cramp, that’s all. Let’s call it a day.”
Rodrigo followed as I started for the ladder, assessing what remained to be done as I went. I paused to examine some minor figures and noticed a faint blur of color in the extreme right near the bottom. After adjusting one of the lights, I made out the form of a man. Not enough of the original paint remained to indicate who, or even what he might be. A soldier? A religious figure? One of the Indians proliferating the scene? I could not tell. I’d have to use my imagination on virtually the only part of the original fresco that could not be accurately interpreted... or paint it out of the fresco completely.
A stirring in the woods, the ominous atmosphere in my shack, and a hint of odor warned me of the presence. After bathing out of a basin and listlessly eating something tasteless, I studied sketches of the fresco for a few moments before turning off the light and going to bed.
“Why don’t you stop screwing around and just tell me what you want?” I said into the darkness. I immediately rued my words. What if it were the Saint, himself? Impossible! He had died half a world away.
As usual, it took time for him to find form and definition while I lay shivering with equal parts of fear and curiosity. Eventually, he moved to the same photo of the narthex fresco and turned to me, his shadow luminescent.
“I’ve looked at the photo,” I wailed. “I don’t understand!”.
A whirlwind shook the interior of the tiny building. The photo fluttered to the floor. If he sought to frighten me, he succeeded. My skin puckered from a sudden chill. Chastened, I crawled from the bed and picked up the fallen picture. On a whim, I snapped on a flashlight and turned it on the photograph. He shrank from the sudden light as I examined the lower right corner where the protoplasmic finger often rested.
“It’s that figure I can’t make out on the fresco,” I said aloud.
Ignoring the nighttime chill claiming the hut I rummaged around in my things until I found a magnifying glass. Using that, I made out several brush strokes in the form of a small, stylized man.
“I’ll take another look tomorrow.” I didn’t know if I spoke to myself or my phantom.
He knew. That skin-puckering sigh filled the room as he faded away.
***
I spent the next morning completing the retouch of the crucifixion of St. Peter, then suffered through an impatient lunch, earning strange looks from Rodrigo. My meal half-eaten, I rushed up the scaffold and grabbed a clean brush. I again surprised my young companion by ignoring other major figures and going directly to the faint outline in the extreme right corner. Rodrigo held his tongue but was clearly curious. I ignored him.
Cleaning dust from the faint impression of color, I took up my pigments and began to paint. I had to fight the impulse to do a two-dimensional portrait, but that would have been horribly out of character with the rest of the fresco. Instead, I followed the outline my augury had revealed to create a figure of substance out of what had been illusion. As I finished, Rodrigo put aside his brush and moved to my side. He gasped and froze. Holding my breath, I waited him out.
“It’s him!” he whispered.
“You’ve seen him?” I asked.
Rodrigo nodded. “You?”
“Daily. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I wasn’t certain you knew about him.”
“He scared me, at first. I almost quit and run away before I figured out he didn’t want to hurt me. You know who he is?” he asked.
“Not until this morning. He’s the artist who painted the frescoes. He’s the Indian who created all of this beauty.”
“He’s dead. Why does he hang around?”
“Haunt us, you mean? Because he wanted to be remembered for what he did. But I couldn’t understand. Last night, he found a way to let me know what he wanted.”
“What was that?”
“To be acknowledged. He didn’t want his image painted out of the fresco.”
Rodrigo gave a shaky laugh. “Will he vamoose now?”
“I believe we’ve seen the last of our artist friend.”
“I’m glad… sorta.”
Rodrigo expressed my feelings perfectly.


*****
Are we there yet? No, not quite. Teo is still frightened but not terrified. He seems to be coming to terms with his anxiety. At least he’s glad to have the placid Rodrigo working with him on the scaffold. Next week, we’ll finish the story. Then you can email me and tell me what you think.

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As previously noted, The Bisti Business was named as a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in two categories: Best Mystery and Best Gay Book. Winners will be named in November.

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Abaddon’s Locusts is scheduled for release on January 22, 2019, and the first draft of The Voxlightner Scandal is about 90 percent completed.

See you next week.

Don

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