"La Moira" by Erick Merino
There is a villa, not very far from the great cities, named Carey. All the residents seem to live in harmony and the everyday life ticks like the cogs in a clock.
By the beach, on the outskirts of Carey, there once was an abandoned mansion. The villagers called this large dwelling-place La Moira, and no one ever dared to go inside it. According to the legend, an old man named Victor Moira had constructed her as his retirement home, but on the day of the inaugural celebration, Victor had too much to drink and as he approached the shore to make a toast to the sea, a wave swept him up and tossed him against the moist rocks. He drowned. On the following day, the villagers found the fragments of his face embedded on a rock; however, his body had disappeared.
Since then, nobody dared to occupy La Moira. It seemed like the fate of the misled ones rested in this residence from then on. Ten years ago a man had hung himself there. Nobody knew who he was, where he came from, or the basis for his death. His body was found covered with seaweed and lichens. He was probably a drunken hobo who probably had nothing better to do with his life. Death was his destiny. After the ordeal, the mansion only served as a nocturnal shelter to animals and vagrants.
Later on, a boy, baptised as Mark, was born in this villa. His parents were surprised when they looked at him for the first time, because they noticed a small mark on the newborn. As the months went by, the mark became larger, up to the point of causing revulsion. It seemed like someone had tattooed a map on his face.
Misfortune knocked on Mark's door when was only five years old. While he slept, someone entered his home where he lived with his parents. This man came from La Moira. He went up to the second floor where Mark's parents were, and shot each one on the head. Afterwards, the madman sat on the floor and placidly watched them die. He crossed his legs rocked his body back and forth, while contemplating how the sticky pieces of brain slid lusciously down their pretty faces. Then the madman went to the refrigerator, took out some cold cuts and ate them next to the dead. He would offer them a bite, like if they were his favourite dolls, and he would say: "You don't seem very hungry. You must have had supper".
In the morning and after the sun had risen, the madman left the house and was never heard of again. Mark woke up and saw his parents. He became a mute.
The orphanage of Carey welcomed him. After some time, the matrons of the orphan home tried to put him up for adoption, but no one would take him home; being a mute and with his mark on the face... who would want him?
So he grew up in the orphanage, as an odd freak. Everyone respected him because he was a strong-minded boy. There was no way of stopping him if he was determined to do something. Everyone yield to and accepted most of his resolutions because they feared the consequences and all of the orphans were quite scared of him.
One day, his home "brothers"dared him to enter the damned Moira to remove any object from within. Mark was alarmed because the boys in room 'D' had just told him that a leper had been living there. But he gathered his courage and accepted the challenge.
The boys strolled close to La Moira and waited for him on the beach. They would not dare approach her.
Mark walked on the powdery sand until he reached a small wooden fence. From up close, La Moira was imposing and inhibiting. She was high, made of brick, and covered in ivy. Leading out from the main door, a stone footpath trailed down until it reached the small fence where Mark was standing. It seemed to be never-ending. He did not want to lose the reputation he had earned as a brave boy, so after some time, he finally opened the wooden gate and decided to go in. When Mark attempted to take his first step, a cat came out of nowhere and crisscrossed between his legs. He felt like if his spine had been frozen solid. Shortly after, he began to walk again, in what seemed like an aimless and perpetual advance, as if he had lead in his shoes.
Finally he reached the door. It was closed. If he were to open it, would the leper emerge from within? With the weight of his body shifting on the floor's rotted wood, the door opened on its own.
In front of him there was a wooden staircase covered up with a worn and wormy carpet. Above the stairs' rest stop there was a portrait of a richly dressed man, perhaps that of Victor Moira. Unexpectedly, Mark noticed that he had already taken one step up. It appeared that portrait's eyes were beckoning him to enter... offering him a macabre welcome.
He ascended up the stairs. Under the portrait there was a small table, and on it, an old key. He took the key, put it in his pocket and continued to go up the stairs.
At the very top, he saw an open door leading to an olive green room. Was that the true colour, or was it just fungi?
Yes, this was the place where the vagabond had hung himself sometime in the past. Curiosity killed the cat, or so the saying says,so Mark went up, crossed the threshold, and in the room saw a rope knotted around a beam, from which hanged, like a pendulum, a dangling body. It was purple and dripping. Mark screamed, recovering his speech. Quietly then, the first thing he asked was - What are you doing here? Ð then, with a voice that was not his - didn't they take you away? -
The hanged man opened his eyes and looked at Mark.
The first thing he remembered after that was the laughter of his "friends" when they saw him coming out of La Moira pale as ivory. That was when he realised where he was.
He was sweating after running all the way to the orphanage. When the others arrived, they asked him what he had seen. He told them the truth. They immediately turned him into a laughingstock, and joked behind his back; but to his face, nobody would deny his story. They would see into his eyes, and glimpse nothing but truth, and that frightened them. None of them ever dared anyone else to go into La Moira again.
Mark grew up until he reached the age when he had to leave the orphanage for good. He wanted to try out his fortune. And decided to go and find out what he was destined for.
He left Carey and travelled across the world. He disliked company and almost always travelled alone, but in one of his caravan expeditions, he ran into a witch; a significant puzzle piece of his life.
When she saw the birthmark on his face, the witch moved away from him. More curious than ever, he tried to find out why.
When he approached her, she looked into his eyes, like if she was coming out of a trance, and asked him - What are you looking for? -
He answered - My fate -
She lowered her head and began to play with some oily coins that she had in her hand.
- Your fate, eh? And you think you're going to find it? It is she, who is going to find to you, I see it in your face. -
She glanced at Mark from his feet to his birthmark, - There are so many things that I can tell you. But I shan't Your history is rendered in that mark which you have on your face; including the date of your death. But I won't tell you that, unless you ask me. Looking into your future is like looking into a bottle... the more you peer into it, the more you want to know; and you squeeze and squeeze it until you get out most of the juice, or until the bottle's pressure shows you the lower depths. And when you finally try to release, the pressure sucks your eye in, leaving you with one free eye, and with the other trapped forever within the bottle. -
Terrified he implored - I only want you to tell me one thing. -
The witch frowned and said to him - They say curiosity killed the cat, right? But then I look at you, so lost. I'll enlighten you with your past. I witness your dead parents, your suffering, your forgetting. -
The images of the present vanished and the ones from the past reappeared enveloping Mark's body as the memories of his actions were personified. He was five years old. A leprous man knocked on the window of his bedroom, smiled with his burst gums and winked at him. The leper told him that it was time for the second drawer.
Mark understood. The man disappeared.
His parents were on the upstairs floor, reading in the study. He went into their bedroom and took out the gun from the second drawer of the bedside table, the drawer that they had forbidden him to open. He loaded the gun and went up the stairs.
- Enough! Don't tell me about the past, - Mark said - I only need to know... -
- Your fate. For what? If everything is inscribed on your face, precisely from the moment you were born. The key to your destiny lies inside your pocket. It is for you to decide on how and when you should use it. -
After a pause she asked Ð Do you still have a question? -
- Tell me the day when I am going to die -
She told him.
After that journey, he never saw the witch again, but from time to time he would feel her presence, even though there were still a few years left for the quoted date to come.
He continued travelling the world, but in vain because he simply could not find his destiny. He had neither friends nor a permanent job. People thought he was mad. Sometimes he would appear to chat to himself, but if anyone who came from Carey heard him, they would immediately know that he was holding a conversation with his parents and Victor.
He smoked cigarettes and when he got to the end, he tormented himself by extinguishing them on his body. The cherry would sink in, cooking, smoking. And flowering his skin. Every night, he castigated himself with a whip and screaming and begging for forgiveness. He toyed with the key that had removed from La Moira, polishing it over and over until he would draw blood from his fingers.
He constantly dreamed that he climbed the staircase of La Moira, passed the portrait of Victor, reached for the door at the top, and opened it. He would acknowledge the hanging body, but this time it was him, Mark. His skin was wrinkled and rotten; his eyes had slid down from his sockets as egg yolks, and now lay on the ground as half digested meat, smelling like rancid butter. He stared at himself, swinging on that damn rope, until the alter skull was pulled away from the spine. A bone would crack, the veins and tendons would stretch until they snapped, and the head would finally dismember from the body. In the dreams, the corpse always collapsed, but the head remained tied up. The eyelids would the tremble and open. At the heart of those two abysses he would see Victor's eyes. With a bitter taste in his mouth, and at that exact moment he always woke up.
His nightmares and punishments lasted for years. But his worst anguish was always to know the day of his death.
It was three days before the witch's funeral prediction and he decided to go back to Carey. The trip took him two days and a half of constant travel. Would he finally find his destiny once he arrived to his native villa?What was the purpose to go back to his point of departure?
When he arrived in Carey he asked around for his old " friends", but none of them seemed to live there any longer. The town had changed. La Moira was still standing and the orphanage had grown. To Mark this seemed like a stupid circle. If today was to be his death, why here?
He did not have a place to sleep, so he decided to stay at La Moira, like the vile vagabonds that he had repudiated so much and so long ago. He walked towards her, as if he had passed her way for years. He observed the construction and noticed that she seemed much smaller than he remembered, and this trivialised his fear. He opened the fence's half collapsed door and walked down the stone footpath that he had crossed years ago. At the main entrance, the door opened again on its own, this time, she was waiting for him. He went up the stairs and stopped to look at Victor's portrait. Almost all of the paint had flaked down because of the humidity. But the painting's eyes appeared to be intact. He climbed the last portion of the staircase and approached the door. Expecting the worst he turned the knob. Would he see his worst nightmare come true?
The door was locked.
He went back down the stairs up to where the portrait of Victor was, and sat on the first step. He began to ponder.
Why had he lived? He had done nothing significant in his life, and he had left no trace of his existence. Did he have a destiny? What was he destined for? Had he been born only to die?And after that, what? Die to be born again? How paradoxical!
Was he really going to die today? What if the old witch had been mistaken? What if she was not? How was he going to die? There was nothing here in La Moira, nor in Carey, that threatened him with death.
Time passed and he did not die, so he began to cry: how am I going to die? It was then when he saw a shiny object underneath the table, under the portrait. He went closer and saw a dust-covered wine bottle. The cork, already half-rotten, sank in when he pressed it. He peered inside. His life was within, drowned. He began to drink. Was his fate to drink until inebriation and then drown in the sea?
He drank and drank until emptying the bottle. The alcohol began to stun him, and as he crossed his legs he began to rock back and forth. He put his hands inside his pockets and suddenly felt the key that he had robbed in his youth from La Moira. He remembered the witch: it was his destiny. He climbed the stairs and inserted it into the lock. In spite of the years, it slipped in with ease. He turned it, first to the left and then to the right. The mechanism squeaked and spun. He froze up. He did not want to open the door just yet, so he removed the key, and returned it to the table under the portrait. He ran up the stairs and went in.
The door turned inwards showing its greenish entrails. And there was nothing he expected, neither a hanged person, nor himself. He found only a chair, and above a rope with one end hanging and tied in the form of an oval, and the other fastened to one of the beams. He stepped on the chair and introduced his head inside the noose, this was not for him. Mark only wanted to see what it felt like to be in the same situation of his dreams. He looked to one side, to see through the window, and saw himself when young, outside and on the other side of the small fence. He looked towards the other side, towards the door and now saw Victor standing there. Mark slipped off the chair. He struggled from the asphyxiation, and then remained hanging from the rope like a marionette.
A mute boy opened the door of the small fence, but when he tried to take the first step, a cat crisscrossed between his legs and almost made him fall. He walked towards the house with feet of lead on the seemingly endless path. When he stopped in front of the main door, it opened. They were waiting for him.
(©) 1994 Erick Merino
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