Maggie and Alejandra stood amidst the narrow streets of the Hijo de Dios district. It was coming on mid-day and the heat was rising fast.

“Why are we even here?” said Alejandra.

“Because this is where Rafael lives now,” said Maggie. “This is where he told me he’d end up if he didn’t have Luis. So I figure, if Luis was erased from his life, he’d be here in the first place.”

Solid logic,” said Alejandra. “But why are we looking for him?”

 “Because he deserves to get his boyfriend back after my mistake,” said Maggie, “and if both of us are around to contradict Las Tías then we have a better chance of keeping you safe than if it were just me. Does that make you feel better?”

“A little,” said Alejandra. “But let’s find him fast.”

And they set off to search for Rafael.

Hijo De Dios is not an official district, as it sits on the outskirts, running up the hill where the city’s peninsula connects to the land. It does not officially have running water, electricity, sewage disposal, or school services, though such services are provided somewhat surreptitiously by people who have to be paid off well to keep quiet. It does not have fire-department services nor fire codes, not that the fire department would be able to get through the maze of structures anyhow. For the people who have chosen to build in brick or concrete, this is not an immediate problem; the more pressing problem is garbage collection, which is somewhat sporadic. Hijo de Dios has one smell above all others and it’s not pretty.

One would certainly call it a difficult place, for being built up the hill, the streets challenge all but those who were born on the hill, and if someone cannot walk, they live at the bottom of the hill and rarely reach the top. One might call it a colorful place, for the quiet anarchy of its housing placement, the occasional rainbow of vomit on the path, and the occasional splash of fresh blood, frequently accompanied by men walking away laughing. These men are always wearing blue armbands, but it is hardly necessary, for their rifles make their threat clear enough. Upon a time one would have called it a busy place, full of shouting vendors and arguing housewives, people bellowing for everyone to get out of the way, and blue-banded men dragging away their latest victim into the shadows; now, however, there seemed to be very few people indeed.

 Indeed, the only full street was the one that Maggie and Alejandra emerged onto. Here were gathered the greatest concentration of people left in Hijo de Dios, and yet the street was quiet; if anyone spoke it was in a whisper. People were packing their shops up for the mid-day and retreating indoors.

Maggie questioned a young Indio woman dressed in a priest’s garb, who said that everyone around here was aware of Rafael the Sailor. A wine-dark woman of dreadlocks and many-ringed fingers pointed to the very house that the young Indio woman was entering, and Rafael stepped out of it as the Indio woman stepped in.

“That’s very strange,” said Maggie. “I could swear that woman was familiar.” She turned to Alejandra, who was breathing a little easier than she had been. “Alejandra,” she said, “wasn’t that the woman who served us tea? Mademoiselle something?”

“It is indeed,” said Alejandra, “and glad I am to see that she was not erased. What’s she doing in priest’s robes, though?”

“Administering the Extreme Unction,” said Rafael. “So I had to step out. Can’t intrude on a private ritual.”

“I’m surprised,” said Alejandra. “I should have thought she would take the easy way out, and pledge herself to Benigno’s army, and so vanish in an instant.”

“Not many people want to do that these days,” said a voice from behind Maggie. She turned around. Here was a wine-dark man, taller even than Maggie, a man of dreadlocks and a scruffy beard, a man of great brawn and sad eyes.

“That’s Benigno,” said Alejandra.

“You know him?” said Maggie.

“We’ve met,” said Benigno. “Though never spoken. Alejandra is the Criollo who dares venture into our streets, and never says why. I am the man whom none will own as son, for all who take up with my cause tend to vanish, though they never eat, nor drink, nor smoke anything.”

“Now, that’s a bit of a boast,” said the many-ringed woman. “I birthed you, Benigno, you could at least own that.”

“But will you call me your son?”

“Not until you find your army,” said the woman.

Benigno chuckled. “As you always say. Well, I admit I have not been diligent lately, in regards to that.”

“Indeed not,” said the young Indio woman, Mademoiselle Le Chifre, as she opened the door of the house. “You have been content to be the angel of death around here, giving people an easy passing by making them pledge to your cause on their deathbed. So I have been told by so many dying people. How many have vanished under your care? Is my function simply to be a safety net for people who refuse your offer? I don’t want to see your face right now, Benigno. Get out of here.”

“My apologies,” said Benigno. “Mother Marquez, I never meant to imply that your work was less important than mine.”

“And yet you intruded upon my responsibilities anyway. Just go.”

Benigno grumbled as he departed away down the street.

“What’s his cause?” said Alejandra.

“We can speak of it freely here,” said Mother Marquez nee Mademoiselle Le Chifre, “for Rafael’s protection extends over this block. What Benigno wants is to gather an army and fight Las Tias de Ojos. Won’t hear a word against it. And anyone who joins him disappears, but he doesn’t. Perhaps Las Tias have a cruel sense of humor.”

“Sounds like someone I’d like to have around,” said Maggie. “Alejandra and I were going to head off and fight those things ourselves.”

“You -- “

“But on an entirely different note,” said Maggie, “There’s a lot I would like to know about you, regarding your double life.”

Not worth discussing,” said Mother Marquez. “Not now. I have to get where I’m going before the mid-day comes on fully. You should get indoors. Meet me at the shrine of El Bosque De Fideles, once the sun sets.”

And she departed as well.

Alejandra turned to Rafael. “This is a dangerous place for you to live,” she said. “Where people let each other stay out so close to the mid-day.”

“Surely any place is dangerous,” said Rafael, “if one can be erased for blinking too vigorously or breathing too happily. But come inside. We will see the old woman die, and then speak of other things.”


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