An eerie wailing from the front door startled abuela as she cracked another egg into the sizzling cast-iron skillet. The shrill voices were insistent and demanding. In her sixty-seven years, she’d heard nothing like it.
After the recent evidence of brujería (witchcraft) in the neighborhood, abuela was wary. More evil sorcery might be afoot here in La Yuma. She inched to the kitchen doorway and peered warily toward the front of the house, straining to focus her failing eyes. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
Lucifer was at the door.
The Prince of Darkness was accompanied by Death himself, his skull’s face staring in a wicked grin. Judging by their short stature, it was clear both had assumed the form of gnomes. Worse still, each was aggressively thrusting a large, hollow amulet toward her as they continued their bizarre incantation. The strange amulet appeared to be some type of orange gourd with an evil smiling face.
“Triko-tree! Triko-tree!” they shrieked again.
Her granddaughter Marta sat in the living room transfixed by the television, oblivious to the danger lurking at the door.
Abuela fought a sudden weakness in the knees and the urge to urinate. She braced herself against the kitchen door, her mind racing. She had to compose herself. Her grandchild was in danger from these demons.
Then, with piercing clarity, an inspiration came to her.
Rushing to the kitchen sink, she filled a saucepan with water from the tap, then ran into the living room where she grabbed the plastic crucifix hanging on the wall.
“Be gone from this house! Leave us in peace!” she screamed in Spanish as she charged toward the front porch brandishing the crucifix and the saucepan. “This is holy water! This is holy water!”
* * *
Michael and Tommy Bockman’s plastic pumpkin baskets were barely half full as they walked toward the house of the Cuban family. They knew finding choice candy there – like jujubes or candy cigarettes – might be a long shot, but the pickings had been pretty grim so far this year. They’d already pitched two apples and a banana into the sewer.
The eight-year-old twins had saved their allowance for more than two months to buy the elaborate devil and skeleton costumes they were wearing tonight. Now it was beginning to look like they might have been better off spending the money directly on candy.
Although apprehensive about the Cubans, the boys were determined to try every house on the street. Their haul had been meager so far. As they neared the door of the yellow bungalow, they began chanting.
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they called into the screened-in porch. The porch light was on and the boys could see the gray glow of a television set flickering on the walls of the living room. An overhead light was visible in the kitchen at the back of the house.
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they screamed again, holding out their pumpkins expectantly.
After several more rounds of chanting, Michael and Tommy finally saw a figure moving toward them in the house. At last, someone was coming to the door.
What they saw next left them petrified.
Emerging from the gloom of the living room, an elderly woman was charging toward them, screaming something unintelligible and frantically waving a crucifix while holding a saucepan. Her gray eyes glared wildly, fully exposing the white around her pupils. Paralyzed with fear, the boys stood rooted to the ground, their expressions of terror hidden behind their masks.
The deranged old woman opened the screen door and thrust the crucifix toward them, still shouting angrily. Thinking she might want him to take the crucifix, Tommy extended his pumpkin basket tentatively toward the plastic cross.
It was the wrong thing to do.
With astonishing quickness and uncanny aim, the old woman emptied the saucepan of cold water directly in his face.
Drenched and terrified, Tommy spun on his heels and bolted away with Michael trailing less than a step behind.
* * *
From the threshold of the screen door, abuela watched in triumph as the two demons fled into the night. Her ruse had worked. She had managed to chase the evil spirits away from the house.
But she would need to be prepared. In La Yuma, you never knew when the Devil might return.
From now on, she would have plenty of holy water on hand.
* * *
Excerpted from the unpublished novel The Skinny Years by Raul Ramos y Sanchez, the award-winning author of the novels AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND. He is also host and editor of MyImmigrationStory.com. For more information visit www.RaulRamos.com.