Every so often, into the very belly of despair, enters one who cannot spell the word or pronounce it properly.
Esmeralda was one of those.
We had known each other before, from a life that was lived outside the boundaries and sealed gateways of Rancho Nuevo. Memories of that life were never very clear. They were the dew of dreams, fragmented and uncertain. When she arrived in this place I now call my own, she was defiant in the face of everything we were. Esmeralda sought to redefine what we were in accordance with her ideas of right and wrong. I tried to dissuade her, but she would listen to none of my learned insistences. Had she only been able to understand that in Rancho Nuevo one needs to pick and choose one's battles carefully, and in accordance with what is really important to oneself, then her fate here might have been different.
Some people pass through life, regardless of its parameters, and greet each situation and scenario as something they must hand stamp with their own ideals. They never stop to ask themselves if the labor of the war and the losses they will incur along its path will be worth the anticipated or hoped for end. The end fails to justify the means, or even justify the stirring of a settled pot. People in Rancho Nuevo have long understood that physical expressions of love are equated with lust alone and that love is a higher concept that denies physical treaties and kindnesses. Esmeralda was in love with lust, and she treated it as the pinnacle of personal achievement. It was probably what caused her to be sent to us. Here in our quiet town, where the ground exercises more movement and shame that the people who exist here, there are unspoken truths that must be adhered to. Those who control us from behind unseen curtains are rarely aroused by momentary lapses of obedience. They are, however, enraged by displays of open rejection of the way things have to be.
She spoke to me immediately after arriving at the Blackjack Saloon. It was with great curiosity she watched Carla, the painfully beautiful waitress adorned with innumerable scars and bruises, serve drinks to the table of eight men playing cards in the corner. Every time she approached their table, she twitched and shook. I knew why, and so did everyone else in Rancho Nuevo. We did not have to ask. By watching anything that existed in this town you would eventually understand its point and counterpoint. Everything is an endless pattern, as there was no tomorrow and yesterday was an illusion of the mind. Esmeralda, however, could not keep herself from asking me what had happened to this sweet young waitress who seemed so soft and innocent.
No explanation could do Carla's situation justice. Before she came to Rancho Nuevo, she had been a man who went by the name of Carlos. He was a bandit of some note in a time of wild, untamed territories. His fame as a bandit was outdone by the unholy path he followed after ordinary banditry lost its luster. It was two years before they caught Carlos the Lost, who raped and murdered fifty young women across the land. After his capture, the people of the land hung him and prayed that he would suffer a fate that would forever remind him of what he had done. Now, he was a woman, a composite of those he had violated, and served drinks to these eight card players, and after each time they completed fifty hands of blackjack amongst them, they took Carla into a room in the back and violently forced her to comply with all of their desires and demands. What most onlookers failed to realize was that the fate of those who prayed for Carlos to receive this fate, and were rewarded with it, suffered a far worse fate themselves for their vindictive desires.
Esmeralda had an addiction to darkness. She perpetuated herself from place to place and life to life through her fascination with those things that not only went against the grain but destroyed the grain in the process. She approached Carla, which caused Carla to pause and drop her tray of drinks. No one ever approached Carla. She was the property of the eight card players and no one dared to rail against that truth. Demonios himself, who oversaw everything that happened in Rancho Nuevo, would certainly be displeased beyond what his patience allowed him to control.
Esmeralda threw herself into a situation that was not meant to be interfered with or challenged. She chose a battle that was not hers to have. The men stood up from their table. They had only played twenty hands of cards and were angered by the interruption. No one had ever seen them rise from the table, except when it was time to take Carla into the back room. They grabbed Esmeralda by the wrists and threw her face down on the card table. I knew this would not be a turning point in the history of Rancho Nuevo worthy of any celebration. Not even for Carla herself.
I suddenly found myself outside, as I usually did once the fiftieth hand was played. As a distinguished voyeur throughout the course of the lives I lived before coming to Rancho Nuevo, I was never allowed to practice such behavior here. It was the way of this place. Everything has a random karma to it that was decided upon by Demonios and his lieutenants. I watched everything in Rancho Nuevo and knew everything that happened here. Yet I could only watch in the fabric of my imagination, never on the stage of cruel reality.
I found myself lodged between two fifty-five gallon barrels of burning oil, some five hundred yards from the entrance to the Blackjack Saloon. At my feet was Carla, trembling and cowering in a trance like state. She had broken free of the curse that had haunted her. What had been Carlos the Lost was now gone from her soul as she was reborn. She looked up at me with exhausted, tear filled eyes. She asked one question and then shut her eyes forever to Rancho Nuevo.Why?
I had never seen anyone die in this place before. Death was a doorway, a gate to another place outside of this city of flames. No one could die, for it meant departure from this our prison. I thought about entering the Blackjack Saloon once more, but thought better of it and began to walk alone down the cold, burning streets of this town that was my home. I wondered about Carla and wondered if maybe she had taught me something more than I realized. Could only a better angel of darkness shake us free from this place? Was Esmeralda the first wave of a new kind of citizen of Rancho Nuevo who would overwhelm the power of this town and teach us how to set ourselves free.
Perhaps, but I stopped thinking about it after I heard the sound of the Blackjack Saloon being struck by a firestorm of unholy proportions. The fire that burned was bright white and reduced the saloon and everything for a quarter of a mile around it to ash. It was unfortunate for those who were inside that no one could die in Rancho Nuevo. They stayed to answer for the prayers of others, and now their existence here was forever changed. It was the way of things.
The Rancho Nuevo Series: