When we started our morning trip to Ica, from Lima, the sun was bright, and shiny, and the air was fresh and cool. Just as I liked it, and as I was about to leave the hotel to meet the chaffier of the private car I rented, and depart, Manuel LLosa (the maitre de’hotel of the Americana, where I was staying) rushed to greet me, said to the chaffier to drive carefully, holding the door open for me:
“It is spring here sir, and it is nice and sunny today, but try and be back before twilight, the roads get a glistening on them.”
I assured him I’d be back for dinner. He gave his Peruvian grin with a half smile. Then added, “Remember it’s the day of the dead, and in Ica, you know what that is.”
Chick Evens answered with in a vigorous manner, “No problem!” And nodding his head drove off sharply. Outside of Lima, he motioned for the driver to stop: “Tell me Jose, what is twilight in Ica like on the Day of the Dead?”
He made the sign of the cross, across his heart, as he replied brief but intensity: “Witches!” he said, “witches and devils and condors, come out at twilight in Ica and on the road into Ica!” Then he looked at the time on the clock embedded into the automobile’s dash, and stared at it, with his forehead raised up, along with his shoulders quivering, as if he had just gotten a chill. He had seemed a little impatient with the stopping of the car, it wasted time.
I kind of felt he was protesting my stop, so he made his little story up, Peruvians are often in a hurry when on the road, but once they get to their destination, try and get them back to work, they like long siestas, and extended holidays, and if the earth was falling in on them, they’d not change their routine. But also I understood they could be very superstitious. And so I sat back into the seat of the car, in the back seat of the car that is, and motioned for him to go on. And he drove out of that parked area, like a man who just had gotten bitten by a piranha.
As he drove down the highway, off and on, Jose would look in his rearview mirror at me in the back seat, almost suspiciously, and looked in the sky as he drove, sniffed the air, as if he was trying to find something foul, made the sign of the cross a few times, and there were no churches about.
The road was pretty straight and smooth for the most part, the Pan-American Highway south, kind of like a wind-swept area of little variation, we got some gushes of wind against the car, and Jose would start to shiver again. The road looked like it was used, but it was almost vacant today, it looked very inviting for a traveler, but I didn’t want to say that to Jose, lest I offend him, and I’d have to drive. But to be honest, all this Ica and witch stuff did crossed my mind, but only because of curiosity, so I asked Jose a few questions. He answered offensively, again looking at the dashboard clock, said:
“Well, Mr. Evens, I want to tell you up front, I didn’t want to take you to Ica today, no one does, but my boss said if I didn’t he’d fire me, so yes, I’m not happy about this.”
“Fine,” I said, “stop the car at the gas station, up ahead,” we were near a hamlet of sorts, with three attached buildings, the gas station was the main one. Then I told him, “I can’t ask you to go on like this, you’re too nervous, you’ll kill both of us, and I’m sure a bus comes by, here is ten soles catch one and go back to Lima, have a restful and peaceful holiday.” He stopped the car, jumped out of the car faster than a kangaroo, and with hands wide open, said in a pleading manner, “I beg you not to go on by yourself, señior, go back to Lima with me, go to Ica tomorrow, but if you must, I will pray for you!”
It seemed to me, he was about to tell of some experience he had, but really could not get it out of his little framed body to speak it, it was too frightening, or simply too difficult, saying as he walked away from the car, “Gracious, gracious…!” (Making the sign of the cross again.)
I knew arguing with a man under such horrid stress was of no use, there would be no advantage in it, and I’d not get to Ica, and back in time for my Cuy dinner (baked Guinea Pig).
“Okay,” Jose said, “I’ll drive a little further, but drop me off at the nearest town before sunset.” And I agreed, and I had my driver back.
As we drove down the highway, eighty-miles per hour, the car seemed to become over heated, ever time he tried to go past sixty, he sniffed the air again, and grew very whitish, and, looking every-which-way, he was taking deep breathes. Then he pointed to a spot near the highway, a gravestone kind of, it was a little white house, with a cross in it, and flowers, and said, first in Spanish, then in English:
“I buried her-she killed herself.”
“Oh!” I remarked, “A suicide? Interesting…” I was hoping he’d shed some light on his statement. But for the life of me, he just stared and sniffed, and looked out the side window and made the sign of the cross, and when he’d reach eighty-miles an hour and the car would start to steam up, he’d reduce the speed. He was frightened.
As we continued, we saw several condors, large bodies, stretched out wings, black with white spots in the wings. They circled over the car, and made sounds, yelping like barking dogs.
“They sound like dogs,” I said to Jose.
“No?” he answered, “I’ll explain about the voice box in a condor later.”
“Isn’t it strange the condors are out in this area?” I asked, and then I noticed dark clouds drifting and crossing over our path. The beautiful sun was quickly fading the closer we got to Ica, even a cold chill set into the weather, the condors flew off. Who had at first seemed to encircle the car?
“Mr. Evens?” said Jose, “they were only a breath away, they were giving us a warning, they will come again, and it will be a horrid reality,” and as he said that, and the condors now left, the sun came back out. Jose looked in the mirror at me:
“This Amigo is the calm before the storm!” he said.
Now he looked at the dashboard clock again, holding the steering wheel firm, with a grip that could have strangled a bear to death, his palms were sweating. I was becoming restless with all his tension, and noticed myself shaking my head, automatically. I was starting to feel a little adamant about taking over the driving.
“Explain to me,” I said, “just where is the spot where the witches embodied into the condors, expose themselves to a person?”
He looked in the mirror at me, made the sign of the cross, and said some kind of a prayer, in Spanish to Mary, “At twilight, everything in the air is unholy,” he expressed.
“You mean witches?” I inquired.
“I mean the highway, the sky, the city of Ica; this car will be circled with the unholy.”
“No, no, I mean will I be able to see them, talk to them.” My curiosity was really being fed now.
“Yes, you will see them, in what form I do not know, and they will speak, in what language I do not know; some say before men had a language, animals and men could talk to one another, in their way of speaking or understanding, they may talk to you like that, if they talk to you at all, but I’ve only heard of a few folks that have witnessed this.”
Jose hesitated, looked in the mirror at Evens, and burst into a legend, saying:
“It is in several areas in Ica, where many ugly souls are buried under the ground-and in places outside of Ica, in graveyards, deep in hidden graves, under the deep clay of the earth, these men and women, come out in the form of animals, their souls, we call them witches, they embody animals, in particular the giant condors because they have speed and agility, and black hearts, and are quite fitting for these dead, and they circle the area they were killed in by some angelic being ten-thousand years ago, and come out for blood revenge, their souls! Many have fled to other places, to islands in the pacific, and the dead that were dead, are not during this time.” He had stopped his narration of the legend, to check the time of the clock again, now pale faced and sweating like a pig. Vacillating and gasping for air. Unable to hold it back any longer he exclaimed, “Oh cursed twilight! Don’t come so quick!”
And it was that we made it to Ica, and I saw my way around the city, did the tourist thing, and at four o’clock headed back.
“Are you still afraid?” I asked Jose.
“Yes sir and I fear you will have to return to Lima alone, I will remain here until tomorrow.”
He had opened the door to the car for me, and I laid down my Cain (or walking stick), I often use in case I get gout on the trip, I laid it along the floor extending onto the front seat, I had purchased it in the Black Hills, several years ago.
I started the car up, it seemed to overhead even quicker than before, the car had been check out, and was found to have no mechanical problems, it would seem the car had Jose’s disposition. I felt sorry for Jose, in that he was deeply sincere of his concern for me, but how foolish can a person be I thought, I dare not laugh in his face though. He did try to make me understand in my own language, and I suppose that was limiting, if not tedious. But now I was in a hurry to get on back to Lima, and drove out of the city, at fifty-miles an hour.
The road I now drove over seemed much more picturesque, more pleasant, in that I had no one to distract me; for the most part, there were no outstanding bits and pieces, items, that the eye might single out, but in all there was a allure of splendor. I took no notice of the time, and not until dusk fall upon me did it dawn on me, that it came to mind, could I find my way all the way back to Lima.
The night was cooler than the day, and it was getting inky dark like outside my car, around my automobile, drifting gray clouds circling the gibbous moon, and I could hear in the air a far-off sound, a rushing sound, wings, heavy wings, through which appeared to come at intervals, a mysterious cry that Jose said the witches of Ica had, and I heard come out of those huge Andean Condors, those that usually inhabit the mountains, but are found at times flying over Lima, and along its cost, here along the highway from Ica to Lima, or the other way around.
I continued to drive, but I hesitated in my mind, I had said I would go faster and even though I knew I shouldn’t, in case the car would overheat again, my foot seemed to be out of control, and I pressed hard on the accelerator. And I covered a wide stretch of the open country. As I looked out my side windows everything was dots.
The air was getting colder, and rain began to fall. I thought of the miles and miles had to go yet to get to Lima. And the darker it got, the faster I went. Then the wind grew stronger, and more forceful, and the rain was icy, and whirling abut me, and those wings, I could hear those wings, wings, hard rapid wings, asunder and vivid wings now passed over my car, my headlights spotted them.
My car was getting coated with ice, and it was swaying to each side of the road, I saw an adobe ruins ahead, a shelter, with trees around it, no roof, just four walls, and trees. I had to stop the car lest I let it overheat; the heat gauge was on red, so I stopped the car and listed to the weird sounds of the Vulture gryphus, the Giant Condor. Their voices were like echoes around the car. By and by, the storm seemed to be passing as the night went on, and I put a blanket around me, feeling my body shiver some. I got out of the car, checked the radiator, the water left in it only filled half it up, with my flash light I looked in the trunk for water, found none. The walked over to the adobe house to see if there was an outside well. I had stopped half way, there was a sudden stillness in the storm, and no sound of wings, silence, my heart seemed to ease a bit, and the clouds gone, and the moon’s light, was indeed a gift, I had left my headlights on in the car.
As I got next to the adobe house, it was really an old ruin of a church, a chapel of sorts, and alongside it was a graveyard, and before me was huge massive condors, sanding over gravestones, with the moonlight overhead, came a loud howl from all of them, as if they were dogs and wolves. I was near frozen in shock, and felt the warm flood of my blood freeze in my heart, trying to renew my breath, and I told myself to run, run like hell to the car, but some sort of fascination, impelled me to stay, I actually approached the creatures, these old world vultures, very large broad-winged soaring birds, I started to walk around them, the watched me, a few more flew in, one flew out, their wing spans were ten-feet from tip to tip, and they weighted near thirty to thirty-five pounds. They were mostly black with the exception of a frill of white feathers nearly surrounding the base of the neck, their heads looked flattened. They had some kind of an emotional state between one another, as if communicating. There were a few smaller condors, I accepted them as the females, and their necks were a cream color, a few yellow, and one orange.
I said out loud, “The dead travel fast!”
Some of them looked old, real old, I knew they could live to be fifty or even at times eighty, and I would have expected most of these were beyond that. And I knew by the talk I had with Jose, they had a territory of perhaps 150-miles radius.
As I leaned against a tree, it moved slightly and a flash of forked-lightening that lit up the sky, seemed to have woke up all the condors. Then I saw a beautiful woman come out of a tomb, grasped the foot of the condor, hurled her body into it like a storm, her whole being. I looked towards her tombstone; the dead now in the condor rose for a moment as if in agony, trying to fit herself into the bird, making a mingling of dreadful sounds. The condor cooled by the night storm, spread out it wings to regenerate heat that it needed, for energy.
The last thing I remember was a vague, black winged moving mass, as if all the condor-phantoms were closing in on me and blacking out the inky sky, and the moons light.
For a time I remember not a thing, not one iota of what took place, but slowly I returned to my sense, my arms and feet, racked in agony. There was a shape and tight feeling around my nick, the sounds of wings flapping, as I had noticed the condor doing before to regain energy, or conserve it. Something was tormenting me. I knew not what, but whatever could it be other than the scavengers. There was breathing as of some bird close or over me, a warm scratching at my throat, and then came a realization of the dreadful truth, which sicken my inners and made me want to vomit, and tightened the muscles around my heart, and brought a surge of unpleasantness to my brain, I had a hard time breathing, the beast was on my chest, and its bald had and beak, lying on my throat. Eyes barley open, this brute, with flaming red eyes, with squinty little eyes, gleamed with a reddish mouth. It sharp talons it had ripped open my arms and legs (but because there was no warm air currents, I would guess I was still alive, they count on them for energy). I new these were not normal condors, because normal ones do not have a voice box, silent for the most part, that is why Jose knew who they were, and I knew who followed me.
I heard a sounds by my car, voices drew closer and closer, I feared to make a sound, lest this bird rip my throat open- then this red eyed female condor, flew away at the nearing sounds, and the others followed, it was Jose, he had a revolver, a 38-special.
“Señior,” he said, “I brought some brandy with me, and iodine in the car for your throat.” Eagerly I jumped up, “Well, how did you find me?”
My joy rang out hurriedly: “Get me out of here please!”
“Yes, yes, come quickly-quick! Before they come back all energized.”
“It-yes-oh yes indeed,” I exclaimed.
“No use trying to explain, or talk, I can figure it out by looking at you,” said Jose, “but you know it serves you right for not believing me.”
I didn’t argue.
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