The Devil's Labyrinth
In appreciation of
Dr. Michael Hart
Dr. Howard Maron
the crew at MD2,
for getting us through 2006
SPAIN † 1975
THE OLDER BOY laid a gentle hand on the younger one’s shoulder. “Ready,
The younger boy choked back his tears and nodded, determined not to let his brother see how sad he was. Avoiding his brother’s gaze, he instead kept his eyes fastened on the box in his hands, the cardboard box he was clutching so hard its sides were starting to give way.
“Okay, then. Let’s go.” The older boy was armed with a rusty shovel from the old potting shed behind what used to be a stable, but was now a small apartment his parents rented out to vacationing
The smaller boy eyed the spot carefully, but then his gaze shifted to the small grotto that was almost invisible in the deep shadows of the farthest corner of the courtyard. “No,” he said, his voice soft but certain. “Over there. Next to the Blessed Virgin.”
The elder brother sighed, but headed toward the tall statue of Santa Maria. Glancing back at the house, he saw their mother standing in the doorway, her wild hair done up in a red cloth, a cleaning rag in her hand. For a moment he thought she was going to call out to them, but instead she merely shrugged, returning to her work even before he sank the shovel into the soil and lifted out the first clod of earth. “Good,” he said. “The Virgin will look after Pepe.”
“Do you think I should have made a
“You only need a shroud for a person,” his brother told him.
Barely hearing his brother, the younger boy opened the box and looked inside at the large, lifeless body of the iguana that had been his pet for more than three years. Practically as long as he could remember.
His finger trembled as he stroked the smooth skin of the lizard’s leg, but now that he was dead, Pepe felt completely different than he had only yesterday.
He felt — dead.
But it was all right. Jesus would take care of him, just like the nuns said Jesus would take care of everybody. Except maybe not, because the nuns also said Jesus only took care of Catholics and everybody else went to—
He could barely bring himself to say the word, even to himself, and suddenly he felt himself burning with a heat even more intense than that of the Spanish summer afternoon.
Then, just as he was putting the lid back on the old shoe box that was his pet’s coffin, his brother’s shovel hit something.
But not a rock. Something different.
The older boy dropped to his knees.
The younger boy set the iguana in the protective shade of the courtyard wall and watched as his brother dug with his fingers, then lifted out a tarnished box with what looked like the outline of a cross on its lid.
“It’s for me,” the younger boy breathed. “A gift from the Virgin for giving her the body of Pepe.”
The older boy smiled at his little brother. “You know what?” he asked, seeing that the boy’s tears seemed finally to have dried. “I think you just might be right!” Brushing the dirt from the box, he glanced back at the house once more, just to make sure their mother wasn’t watching, then carefully set the object he’d unearthed aside. “Take Pepe out of the box.”
“Out of the box?” the smaller boy echoed.
“Yes, hurry, before Mama comes.”
His brow furrowed, the small boy lifted the body of his pet out of the shoe box and laid him in the dirt hole his brother had dug. At the same time the other boy placed the object he’d taken from the earth into the shoe box and replaced its lid.
The older boy put his hands together and bowed his head. “
“Do not tell anyone what we found in the garden,” the older boy said as they stood up.
“Because it’s our secret, at least until we find out what’s inside. Come on. You go in the kitchen door, and I’ll take the box and put the shovel away, then meet you upstairs. In your room. Okay?”
Some of his grief assuaged by the excitement of this conspiracy with his brother, the boy nodded eagerly, and set off toward the house.
Their mother, humming along with the radio, stopped her youngest child at the door. She hugged him close, kissed the top of his head, then stroked his hair away from his forehead. “
When she finally released him, he ran up the stone stairs to the floor above and went to his room, where his brother was already waiting for him, the object they’d dug up sitting on his bed. Where the shovel had struck the box, the boy could see a glint of silver.
Carefully, his brother worked the cover loose until he was able to lift it from the box. Inside, a wooden dowel protruded from the top of a disintegrating cloth bag.
“Be very gentle,” the older boy said as his brother reached for the object, nodding, but even as his trembling fingers touched the bag, it began to fall apart.
“You do it,” the little boy said, jerking his hand away.
His brother picked away the rotting threads of fabric to reveal what looked like some kind of yellowish paper wrapped around the wooden dowel.
Then, when he picked the object up, the wood crumbled to dust just as had the fabric that wrapped it.
But the scroll was of a hardier material — though it looked thin and fragile, it remained intact.