Long before sunset, the sky threatened to drench the dry and dusty roads. The sky would be dark sooner she thought, as she passed like a fleeting vision through the shantytown of La Fabella. Around her were children chasing each other, vagrants lying on the ground, peddlers selling their wares, and scavengers rumaging through the garbage piled along the streets. Rain clouds hung above, ready to empty themselves, but she seemed unalarmed.
After a couple of turns, she walked along the dangerous side streets, oblivious of the hobos who could pounce at her any moment.
Just as she reached the corner of Verona and Pecado, a scurrying armadillo crossed her path, startling her, and almost tripping her. Noella somehow managed to maintain her balance. When she used her fingers to brush her tendrils back, she impulsively lifted her face and saw the Casa Grande, a squat four level adobe building offering cheap bedspace for transient travelers.
While she paused, she thought about staying there for the night. But then, i'll still need to get my things from... Never mind. Two seconds later, when the rumbling of thunder cut the stillness in the humid air, Noella held her raspberry peacoat closer to her skin, and decided to continue walking. It won't be long, she thought to herself.
When the rain fell, Noella had already reached the portico of the Mezcado House. The house was two floors of Spanish architecture lined with dried bricks, hardened clay and stuccoed walls, now covered in mold and mildew. It was the ancestral home of the Mezcado Family, Noella's family. "This is where it all begins." she whispered.
The Mezcado House stood with only a few other houses on Sagrada Monte, a rocky hill at the edge of Tierra Laruja, with a view of the town. A stone path led from the street to the porch and the main entrance. But she remembered that the front door was bolted and that she had to take the backdoor.
She was glad that the key still worked. He didn't change locks. She was also relieved to see that the herb garden had not been destroyed and that the pigeons were still in their open coops. Thank goodness, they're all intact! She went in. The stove still stood in the kitchen, just as it had before. The cooking utensils were all in place. And the herbs and spices kept in their glass containers were all in the cupboard, a bit dusty, but untouched. She knew she had other things to do, but something in the house seemed to invite her to stay. And how could she refuse that? I'd call the station later and have my luggage delivered early in the morning.
She dropped her purse on the counter, and began exploring the ground floor. She slid from room to room, try to sense impressions and recall all the memories she could associate with each area.
From the kitchen she sailed to the dining hall. There she, remembered that a hidden passage existed behind the drapery, a small hall that their grandfather converted to a temporary storage room where wine was kept each time the cellar was full. The hall ended with a small door, designed to look like a closet door, which opened to the foyer. From the foyer was the front room, now without furnishing. Most of the ground floor was empty, yet still filled with her brother's presence. "Oh, brother dear. I wonder what had happened to the couch, the carpet, and the candelabra. Sebastian..."
Her brother, Sebastian. His death was the reason for her coming back to Tierra Laruja. She was twelve when their mother mysteriously disappeared, her brother, then fifteen, asking her to trust him, packed her belongings and told her to take the bus and ride as far away from Tierra Laruja as she could. She would never forget the concerned look on his face. Noella could not understand but she complied.
Before she left, Sebastian threw a handful of semiprecious stones into her bag and said "Noella, keep these as they will become useful to you. When you've reached a place far from Sagrada Monte, exchange these for money. Build a new life. Promise me you'll build a new life. Promise? Good. And promise me you'll never return, that you'll forget the Legacy of the Mezcados. Promise me!" She promised.
But that was then. Sebastian is gone. Now, ten years after she left, Noella returned to investigate his death. She had received the telegram so late, that he had already been buried for three weeks when she arrived. She talked to Doctor Arthur Escrimador, a family friend, and he confirmed that he was the one who found Sebastian sprawled in his room. He also revealed that he took care of Sebastian's funeral and that it was Father Clavio, Sagrada Monte's parish priest, who handled the burial. It was all he could tell Noella. Superintendent Dan Viajero, had telegrammed her, and sent her the police report: Sebastian Mezcado died in his sleep. Autopsy showed cardiac failure was the cause of death. Although these sources eliminated foul play, and indicated Sebastian died of natural cause, Noella was not convinced.
She could not explain it, but she knew Sebastian didn't just die. Somebody killed him.
When she had arrived in Tierra Laruja early that afternoon, she quickly went to drop by Dr. Escrimador's clinic, and she had remembered to pass by the convent where Fr. Clavio was staying. She had not received relevant information from either so she decided to hurry to the cemetery. It had not provided her any answers either. Her trip to her brother's grave had wearied her but she still had to take supper before resting.
What did Sebastian mean when he asked her to forget the Legacy of the Mezcados? Their family had been known for their catering services, providing excellent food for weddings, christenings, birthdays, and other occasions, planning and organizing the events, and Russian buffet|serving meals] whose recipes had been kept and improved by the Mezcado Family for at least five generations. While trying to figure out what her brother meant, a memory flashed in her mind. It was the Mezcado recipe box.
She found it in Sebastian's bedroom, right on top of the nightstand. It was the dark shiny metal chest forged by a master blacksmith, especially for their family, back in 16th century Salamanca, Spain. It was twenty centimeters or almost eight inches wide, and thirty-three centimeters or nearly thirteen inches long, and only a handspan tall. Inscribed on the lid were the words:
"THE RECIPE SHOULD BE FOUND OR ELSE IT MUST BE MADE"
Puzzled yet excited, Noella took the box to the kitchen and leafed through the recipe cards searching for a simple yet tasty dinner guide. "Let me see if grandmother's onion soup is here. Rabbit stew, no. Chicken broth, no. Buttered pike, mmm. No. Onion soup, onion soup, onion soup. Ah!" She finally found the card she was looking for.
JOVINA'S CREAM OF ONION SOUP
She shuddered. Noella stared at the reciped card. She could swear it was blank just a blink ago. Inside the room, she could hear whispers.
Whispers all around her.
Whispers all around her.
Fear gripped Noella's heart, but she fought it. She bent her knees, lowering herself to the ground. In case intruders were in the house, the kitchen tables would provide her immediate, though ineffective, cover. She listened. Outside, rain fell angrily against the awning, the tin roof, and the glass windows.
She lost her appetite, but she decided to make soup anyway to divert her thoughts. A while ago she tried the switches and when she saw the lights on, she felt good because there was still electricity. At least Sebasitian didn't forget to pay the bills. Unfortunately, the little comfort she found quickly disappeared when a blast of lightning torched two or three electric cables, cutting the power off. Because the darkness inspired deeper fear in her, Noella lit the kitchen with candles and prepared the materials for the soup. Hopefully, keeping herself busy would distract her. And she would no longer feel scared.
As Noella set the pot on the stove she referred to the recipe card once more.
JOVINA'S CREAM OF ONION SOUP
In vegetable wax, fry the onions and turnips for five minutes, keep from browning. Add chicken stock, and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Remove bay leaf. Sieve the soup. Blend flour with milk and whisk gradually into soup. Return to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chives, salt, and pepper. Stir in yogurt and reheat before serving. Dip the hot fried croutons into buttered garlic and float them on top of soup.
Aside from rain water, which she had to collect outside (and lucky her, it was a new moon that night), all of the ingredients she needed where either in the herb garden, the cupboard, or in the old refrigerator. Even when she had been having fast food or instant meals for the longest time, she found out that she was actually comfortable in the kitchen, and that cooking was natural for her.
She had finished the soup, and she thought it filled her heart as much as her stomach. Not bad, for someone who forgot how to boil water! There was a soft smile on her face while she was washing the dishes, but it soon faded. The reality of her brother's death was still painful.
And the whispering sounds continued.
Next: The Harbinger's Tea