We sat outside around the wooden table which we had now moved next to the trees, by the well. Jabez slung a rope around three trees and attached an old tarpaulin, the table was underneath, in the shade. I finished explaining my adventure of last night to Jabez and El Cuervo de Plata, they had both listened to everything without interrupting. I’d missed out some details, a bit from embarrassment rather than anything else, but all the essential stuff was there. The old Indian lit his pipe, which he had filled during the telling of my tale. He looked around and then across to me. He pointed to the ground beyond the trees, where the ploughed field was. I had no idea what, if anything he was growing or would grow there, but that was not the topic of this conversation.
“If you look over the field there,” he started explaining, “you will see the paw prints in the soft earth.”
What paw prints I wondered, had an animal been sniffing around? Of course not, these were the paw prints of the black beast who chased away the devil. That’s what he was saying, and maybe they were.
“You met your spirit animal last night, both of you. Yours was the Black Cougar, that is your Indian spirit. He will be with you always.” He looked directly at me, then turned to Jabez. “And yours is the Viper, the dessert rattle snake. He will poison your enemies, he will sneak up on them, and bite with his deadly fangs.” He paused to smoke and empty his pipe.
“This is better than I thought,” he continued. “You have met your Indian spirits and the Black Cougar left you a message.”
What message I wondered, he only looked at me and headed off towards the mountains. Reading the look of confusion on my face, El Cuervo de Plata grinned and spoke to me as if I was a little child, or an idiot for not understanding. “The Black Cougar told you to follow him to the mountains and his prints point in that direction.” He got up, put his pipe away, and retreated inside for his siesta, leaving me to contemplate his words. We would no doubt be leaving soon, following behind the Black Cougar. A beast I wasn’t sure even existed, following it to the mountains. First though I wanted to hear Jabez’s tale of the Viper.
“I found myself in the Jardin Perfumado,” he told me, “but it was not the same, not at all the same.” I wondered what he meant, but I was not going to interrupt. “It was dark as the darkest night and I stumbled about. It had a perfume lingering in the air, but it was a sort of burnt odour, like from a fire.” He paused to collect his thoughts, I could see him remembering. “I stumbled into a rectangular basin, fell over a small wall, but the basin was dry, there was no water in it. A blue glow seemed to appear which allowed me to see shadowy figures, and the figures became men, ugly, fat, drooling men. I knew that they wanted me, that if they found me they would take their pleasure with me and I would be able to do nothing.” He must have suffered, I thought, his vision was a conception of his past.
“There was one beautiful man though, but he was so far away as to never be reached. He alone held my attention, but that was a mistake, because I didn’t notice how close the others were getting whilst I starred at him. Then they were all over me and groping, pawing, drooling. They transformed into snakes that slithered and turned, and wrapped around my legs and arms. I couldn’t move and I imagined one of those snakes would crawl inside me and possess me.” It was a nightmare vision, I wondered what would happen.
“I screamed and begged, but nothing would stop them. Nothing until I managed to look once more at the beautiful man in the distance. The light around him was golden, he was at the same time the Madonna and Jesus. Then a bell rang, just like the little bell during Mass. There was a bright glow, an orange, golden glow. The bell became a rattle at the end of his tail, and the man became the Viper. Then he was curled around my leg and climbed up my body. Wrapped around my arm with his thin hissing tongue darting in my ear and around my face. The other snakes all slide away and were gone, then he too left, but I knew he was my friend. I know he is my Indian spirit.”
So that was the test for Jabez, it was not difficult to see his demons dragged up from his past. “I guess we better get some rest too,” I put my arm over his shoulder and leaned against him. “I think we’ve got a journey in front of us.”
It was early morning when we set off towards the mountains in the pickup. The three of us squashed together in the front seat, some supplies and a tent thrown in the back. El Cuervo de Plata told us it would be nightfall by the time we arrived, another whole day’s journey across this immense barren scrub land. He also said he couldn’t stay with us, he had to leave. So we would be on our own, but he added that he was certain we would make it. ‘Certain we would make it,’ those words stuck in my mind. Meaning what, I wondered? I thought then about the possibility that we wouldn’t make it, or maybe one of us wouldn’t make it. Not knowing what that might mean, I decided not to think about it.
I couldn’t see that he was following any track, just more or less a straight line towards the distant mountains, that shimmered in the heat and formed a wavering band between earth and sky. What awaited us there?
The light had almost faded and the sun had disappeared, we pulled up under the shadow of the looming mountains on probably the last bit a flat surface before the rocky terrain climbed upwards. We didn’t bother to set up camp, El Cuervo de Plata told us we would have to continue a way on foot in the morning. Everybody was tired from travelling all day in the pickup. He stayed in the cab and Jabez and I made ourselves a bed in the back, between the supplies, for a night under the stars. I fell asleep quickly that night, but not before thinking about what might face us tomorrow, and how far we would have to go on foot, I was no mountain climber.