Inside lay the old woman, upon a bed that had no sheet. A woman of mahogany skin and long wild white hair.  There were a few people surrounding the bed where she lay. She was breathing with difficulty. A bandage was wrapped around her upper arm, yet it did not save her, for from it came an awful stench. Her arm was discolored from the shoulder to the elbow.

“Surely you could save her,” said Maggie. “If you have the power to contradict reality, as I do. Or we could work together. Why do you not help her?”

The old woman coughed. “I asked him -- I -- asked him not to,” said she.

“Hush,” said Rafael. He turned to Maggie. “Old Mother Manuela has had a long life, and she says she’s had enough. She says healing her now would do her only a little favor.”

“Only a little,” said Maggie. “Little. Hm. And I suppose, if either one of us were to implement my proposal, Las Tias would not let us. But if we were to work together…”

“I don’t know what you’re proposing,” said Rafael. “What are you – ”

“Manuela is a healthy little child again,” said Maggie. And poof, where an old woman had been was a young girl, with mahogany skin and long black hair and deep black eyes. And poof, there the young girl was, there was an old woman. And poof, where there had been an old woman was a young girl again.

“You haven’t learned anything!” said Rafael. “You haven’t learned a damn thing since the last time you were erased! You can’t just decide people’s lives and minds for them!”

“Well of course I haven’t learned anything,” said Maggie, “I had my memories erased.”

Little help,” said Manuela.

“You can’t just be a dictator!” said Rafael. “You shouldn’t just be a damn tyrant! Even if you want people to live you mustn’t decide their lives for them, do you understand? I don’t want to be locked in an eternal battle of contradiction with you. And I’m surprised you haven’t been erased in an instant.”

“The window blinds are down,” said Maggie. “Don’t open them.”

“I’m sorely tempted to do so!” said Rafael.

Little help,” said Manuela.

“I solemnly pledge not to mess with people’s bodies and souls without their permission,” said Maggie, “and if I do so again, I shall disappear. There, is that pledge enough for you?”

“It’s a start,” said Rafael.

“Will you two shut up and help me?” said Manuela. “Pick something quick or I’ll never be able to hold a clay pot again without dropping it.”

Rafael turned to Manuela and said, “Little girl, be still.”

And lo, she was set in place, as a little girl.

And the people who had been standing around her, prepared to mourn the loss of their beloved old Mother Manuela, were entirely at a loss for words.

As was Manuela, who was in a situation that not a single person in history had experienced before. “Excuse me,” she said in a sweet voice, “I have a few scores to settle.” Then she ran out of the house, letting the door bang open as she did so. She had not even put on her shoes.

“Should we follow her?” said Rafael.

“I don’t know,” said Maggie. “If she’s this young, would she be dumb enough to run outside the block that Rafael’s protecting?”

“Yes,” said Alejandra, as she rushed out the door.

The advantage of following Manuela through the streets of Hijo de Dios was that they were steep enough to slow the girl down. The disadvantage was that they were steep enough to slow the girl’s pursuers down. So while Maggie and her friends were able to spot Manuela before she got out of sight, catching her would be a different matter.

Especially since the day had at last reached its midpoint, and the heat of the humid noonday sun weighed upon Maggie’s back.

And there were people outside, now. Different people. Young men that Maggie had not seen before, not in such numbers. They were wearing blue armbands, and they carried rifles, and they stood tall and proud and they were not police officers.

“Who are these people?” said Maggie.

“Precisely the people that Manuela should not be encountering right now,” said Alejandra. “She sounds like she has all of her memories but none of the emotional maturity of her previous hundred years. Which means that the people she hates most, she won’t stop herself from attacking – look there.” She pointed to Manuela up the street, who had stopped running and had started kicking a blue-banded young man in the shin. “Can you magic her back here, please?”

“She’s already back with us,” said Maggie, and poof, Manuela was standing in front of them all. Rafael picked her up and held her in his arms. The girl struggled to get out of his arms.

“Let me go,” said Manuela. “I’ve got stuff to do. Things to knock over. These Hijos de La Mar will get what’s coming to them.” She kicked backwards, but Rafael did not release her. “I’ve lost friends and neighbors to these sons of – ”

“Hush,” said Rafael.

“Stop that,” said Manuela. “I’m not a child. Wait. Yes I am. Mierda. This isn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Why’d you make me six years old, lady? I could have done more if I was twenty-five. Thanks a lot.”

“Maybe it’s better this way,” said Rafael. “The Hijos de La Mar don’t know who you are now.”

One of those Hijos sidled up to Rafael and said, “Hey, that kid looks like the spitting image of a young Manuela Lopez. I saw her photograph.”

Everyone went quiet. Maggie looked around at the street. There were a number of blue-banded young men who were looking in her direction and readying their rifles.

Maggie leaned in close to Manuela and whispered, “I can disguise you quickly but I need your permission. Would you like to be a boy for a few minutes?”

Manuela nodded vigorously.

Maggie turned to el Hijo de la Mar and said, “Oh, no, sir. This is a boy that we picked up from the street. His name is not Manuela Lopez. It’s, uh…kid, what’s your name?”

The little boy said “Mojito.”

Maggie raised an eyebrow.

“What?” said the boy. “I like drinking Mojitos. Everyone likes a Mojito.”

El Hijo de la Mar laughed. “Sounds like a street kid,” said he. “Probably should get him to stop, though. He might stunt his growth. Boy, you sure are lucky that it’s not Manuela Lopez’s granddaughter, or we might have had to shoot you all.” He hefted his rifle. “We don’t want any Lopez giving us as much trouble as old Manuela did.” He laughed again, and departed.

The remaining Hijos de la Mar looked confused, but mostly they stopped paying attention to the little group that had nearly been caught with Manuela Lopez. They had other matters to attend to – to cart coolers, to exchange cash, to break into houses here and there and drag people away. Maggie whispered a few words of release, and the people being dragged away were able to break their grip and run. One of them managed to escape around a bend before his captors could react. One  of them had the luck to dodge the bullets as they escaped into another door. One of them did not have such luck. They fell to the earth and bled quietly.

Maggie whispered a few words of healing, and the poor sod upon the ground was able to rise, but another blue-banded young man grabbed him. Maggie whispered a few words of release, and the poor sod gave the young man the slip again, only to be shot down again.

“God dammit,” said Maggie. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Rafael muttered a few words, and the blue-banded young man was yanked into the sky.

“Harsh,” said Maggie.

“I didn’t make the promise you did,” said Rafael. “I won’t vanish because of – ”

And then suddenly he was gone.

And the sky was red.

“Inside,” said Maggie. “Close the windows and the blinds.”

Maggie, Alejandra, and Mojito sat in the room that had once held the body of Manuela Lopez. The other residents of the house were not speaking to them, nor did Maggie wish for their company, for the poor folks had been through enough things today. It certainly did not help that when a young man with a gold earring asked where Manuela had gone, Mojito said “She’s history, thank goodness.” Maggie had shushed the boy but it was too late; the poor young man with the gold earring went away crying. And the woman of middling years and a wide middle had glared at Mojito and threatened him with a wooden spoon, and had said she would turn out the insolent boy and the annoying Criollo and the impudent, arrogant wine-dark woman, but she had glanced out the door at the red sky and, after slamming the door, had chosen to hustle them all into the room that had once held Manuela Lopez.

It was a room of bare concrete, a bed, a chair, a lamp attached to a cord that ran out the window. Nothing else. Mojito got the chair.

“I can turn you back now,” said Maggie. “You don’t have to pretend to be a boy anymore.”

I was never pretending,” said Mojito. “Manuela, she was a pretense. But now I’m what I wanted to be. Now I am Mojito. Thanks for that.”

“Wait,” said Alejandra, “Over the course of a hundred years – you were the matriarch of the family. You were the one who walked into El Bosque Dolor every month and out again until you had that hip injury. You held the Lopez family together even as they fell one by one. You of all people could have chosen to throw off your old name at any time and become the family’s patriarch. Why did you never do it?”

“Because I didn’t realize it until I was seventy,” said Mojito. “I was angry all my life, but I never understood why. And then I knew. But, at my age, I figured making that kind of change was no longer relevant. I was happy and that was what mattered. Maybe I should have done after all? Ah, but I knew a few who did. A few brave young souls. Must have been when I was, sixty, sixty-five? I saw them throw off their old names. And then I saw the sky grow red, and then there were five big eyes in the sky, and all those brave young people, they vanished.”

“But surely that is not a vice,” said Alejandra. She shook her head. “What do I know about Las Tías, though? Little to nothing. Does anyone? Do the police know? They would not tell me. So how they judge vice, I cannot tell.”

“Five big eyes,” said Maggie. “That feels oddly familiar. Ah, but we need to figure out how to proceed if we want to find Las Tías.”

“Find them?” said Mojito. “Find them and do what?”

“Ask them to stop,” said Alejandra.

“Punch them,” said Maggie.

I want to come along,” said Mojito.

Alejandra grimaced. “We have no idea where we would be going,” said she, “nor what dangers we would face. We have no idea how long the journey would be. It would hardly be responsible to bring you along.”

I can handle it,” said Mojito.

“Are you sure?” said Maggie. “Are you going to complain about being tired, and ask to use the bathroom every five minutes, and ask if we’re there yet?”

Claro que si,” said Mojito.

Maggie raised an eyebrow.

“What do you expect?” said Mojito. “I’m a hundred years old, but I’m also six years old. I have my emotional needs. And one of them is to punch Las Tías in the face. They stole half my family and now they stole the people of my entire district and I want to punch them in the face. Let me help.”

“They did what?” said Alejandra.

“Is that why Hijo de Dios is empty?” said Maggie. “I should have thought people kept their vices indoors. If they vanished people from indoors…like they did back in Des Gens Biens…we’ll need to move as soon as we can. As soon as the sun sets. Mojito, can you wait that long?”

“Give me a board game and I’m good for a few hours,” said Mojito. “I don’t think this house has board games though.”

“Surely it does,” said Maggie. And behold there was a chess set sitting on the floor.

In the hours until sunset, Mojito won fifty-five games and let Maggie win one. Then the sun hit the horizon, and Maggie waved her hand, making the board vanish. “We move now,” she said. “We will have to move under cover so that Las Tías don’t notice us.”

“So we duck form building to building?” said Alejandra. “Is that it?”

“We have umbrellas,” said Maggie, and behold, there were three umbrellas before them.

Alejandra raised an eyebrow.

“And we will hold them over our heads and tell everyone it looks like rain – ”

“Can you come up with a better plan?” said Alejandra.


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