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Length:
379 pages
5 hours
Released:
Mar 16, 2020
ISBN:
9781622539284
Format:
Book

Description

In the early 70s, the past sins of one man led to the punishment of an entire town, bringing murder, passion, unrequited love, and a connection to the strangest chain of events imaginable.

Atascadero, (Spanish for Deep Mud) in the early 70s boasts a drive-in theater and a Burger Queen where teens gather on Saturday nights. Lovers head up to Lake Success, and gas is $0.32 a gallon at the Shell station—the one with the 'S' knocked out by vandals. Nothing ever happens in Deep Mud, until someone straps Mayor Suggs to a skyrocket during the Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza, and he explodes all over the townsfolk.

Soon after, a popular family physician resurrects his dead wife, daughter, and several others with mixed results. A failed high school baseball pitcher is gifted with a 95 MPH fastball by the spirit of a murdered child, someone has freed the animals from Chaffey Zoo—including a Bengal tiger—and a stalker is going around in a 'Tricky Dicky' mask attacking people with a pair of pliers.

Only Ricardo Meneses, teenage son of Mexican immigrants, can save Deep Mud. He possesses the 'cursed jewel,' which he must return to the grave.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a compelling literary/magical realism tale loaded with characters you'll never forget. [DRM-Free]

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Released:
Mar 16, 2020
ISBN:
9781622539284
Format:
Book

About the author

Ty Spencer Vossler (MFA) currently lives in Pacific Grove, California with his BMW (beautiful Mexican wife) and their daughter. A prolific author, Vossler has published over seventy works in the past three years, including novels, novellas, short stories, poems and essays. Ty’s work has appeared on four continents. His most recent published book-length work includes: The Eye of Espinoza (World Castle Publishing), Adobe Walls (Unsolicited Press), Mocha Dreams (Shalla Publishing), and Seedlings (World Castle Publishing). His next book, Deep Mud, is coming from Evolved Publishing in late 2019. Until recently, he was a professor at the prestigious Polytechnic University of Tlaxcala, in Mexico. Professor Vossler attributes his originality to the fact that he shot his television over two decades ago.


Book Preview

Deep Mud - Ty Spencer Vossler

Cheers.

Chapter 1 – No Forgiveness

Tlaxcala, 1926

Jose Luis Castro Meneses trudged up the hill as he had a thousand times. For him, the world remained unchanged. He’d never listened to a radio, watched TV, and couldn’t read a newspaper. He knew only what the Priest said on Sundays, and what his father had taught him, which is what he imparted to his ten-year-old son, Juan.

Be a man, he said. Never forget who you are. Always try to do the right thing, and don’t beat your wife, or God will punish you.

Jose was forty, and his wife Delores, twenty-four, was pregnant again. He never questioned why God had made them wait ten years between children.

Soon, he thought, Juan will have a brother to teach our ways—Meneses’ ways.

In 1926, the world was rapidly changing around him. He remained blissfully ignorant of the details surrounding the birth of Disney Studios, or that Erwin Schrodinger had published his equation in quantum physics. Satchel Page debuted in the Negro Southern League, three men danced the Charleston for 22 hours, television was demonstrated to the public, and teaching evolutionary theory was prohibited in Georgia. Oh, he’d heard a couple of the more educated men talk about these things on occasion, but he just nodded as if understanding the references.

As for Mexican news, Jose Luis Castro Meneses knew only that the priest hated the federal government for nationalizing the Catholic Church. Therefore, he was supposed to hate them too... in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen.

At the top of the hill, Jose worked a small plot of maize. His own father, Antonio Jesus Meneses, said that corn had grown on the hill since three hundred years before the birth of Christ.

How do you know this, Father? Jose once asked.

The priest said so.

Now ninety-two, Antonio Jesus still, though with great effort and time, trudged up the hill to visit his son as he worked the land. He lived with Jose, Delores, and his grandson, Juan. The house was divided into two rooms, and before he had come to live with them, the second room had been for the scrawny chickens. They’d constructed the house of brown adobe bricks, prepared with clay, rocks, and corn straw. The toilet could be found any place outside where there were no stinging nettles.

The green corn plants stood only a few feet tall, yet they would soon grow, hiding him as he worked the interior. Wild sunflowers would grow next to them and sway in the breeze like fiery stars. Months ago, Jose had plowed the rows with an ancient burro and a wooden plow borrowed from a neighbor. He thought fondly of the tall corn stalks, remembering when he’d impregnated Delores within the safety of the swishing leaves. She had been fourteen then. Juan was born nine months later, and then they married.

The priest had made a joke of it. You got it backwards, Jose.

Today, he brought with him a simple hoe to loosen the soil around each plant, so that when it rained, the water would reach the roots easily. As he worked, he sang the laconic dirges that the church taught, most of them sounding like the drone of insects. After working for a few hours, his father finally arrived.

You think it’s going to rain? Jose asked.

If God wills it. The old man’s voice rasped with age and the effort to speak tired him, such that he had become a man of few words. He chewed his toothless gums and looked up at the sky. Then, he undid the front of his pants to urinate on the ground. It steamed in the cool of the early morning.

Jose had heard of toilets, and of the pipes that magically took excretions away. Yet what satisfaction was there in that? Out here in the campo, you could examine your leavings when you finished to see where you stood. If it looked sickly, you’d ask a curandera to check it, and she would tell you what to do. The land provided herbs and medicinal flowers needed for most remedies—cures that have since been forgotten in the wake of modern pharmacology.

Jose toiled as his father stood watching, remembering when he stood where his son was, nurturing, provoking growth, harvesting the results, and giving thanks to God. The elder man had forgotten to button his pants, and his limpness hung before him. Jose knew that a breeze would soon remind his father that his mule was left out of the corral.

He chopped down with the hoe and hit something hard. A rock. He nodded. Although the land had been cleared hundreds of times, rocks seemed to grow back as if to say, we were here first. He stooped to pluck it from the soil, then searched for something to throw at. He’d played this game for years. He dug around the object until he was able to wedge it out. The stone was encased in mud. He stood up and searched for a stray dog or cat, or a bird pecking in the newly turned soil. He saw his father and smiled.

Antonio Jesus Meneses heard something land next to his feet. He’d been looking in the distance at the volcano, Popocatepetl. Snow covered the top of it, yet it still simmered, and soon the snows would run down its side, filling streams and rivers below, giving life to everything it touched.

He looked down and smiled, knowing where the stone had come from.

Missed me, pendejo. His voice barely reached his son. Incrementally, he bent until he was able to grasp the stone. Just as slowly, he stood straight again and turned the object over and over in his wrinkled, wizened hands. Then he began detaching the mud stuck fast to it, something to do until he grew tired and made his way back down the hill.

A breeze caused a chilling sensation, and he looked down at his withered manhood. Needed some air, eh, amigo? He left it out and continued freeing the stone from its encasement.

A large chunk came loose, and beneath it a green surface showed. The old man narrowed his eyes and worked to free the rest with his thumbs. A short time later, he held in the palm of his hand a chunk of turquoise the size of his fist, and the color of a woman’s eyes that he’d once known.

She’d spoken Nahuatl, and had worn a fingertip piece of turquoise around her neck. Her name was Coszatl, which meant jewel. She said that Xihuitl, as turquoise was called in the Nahuatl language, also referred to comets and anything considered precious.

Ah, I was so young. She allowed me near, yet never inside.

He remembered working down in the valley for a wealthy hacienda owner, where he’d met Coszatl. He gripped the turquoise tightly in his palm, until it began cutting into his skin.

She was so beautiful, with long black hair like a waterfall on a moonless night, tamarindo lips, and eyes the shape of almonds. Green, they were... as green as algae on a shaded boulder. How did she get eyes like that?

Jose looked up and smiled at his father. As a child, playing the game with his cousins in the fields made work go faster. If you found a stone, you hurled it carefully, never aiming at the head. Ay, pinche cabrón! was the usual response for making a good throw, followed by a great deal of laughter.

His father looked down at a large green object in his hand, and his shoulders were shaking.

Jose set his hoe upright so that he wouldn’t lose his place, then walked toward his father, careful not to step on plants.

What’s wrong, Papa? he asked, yet his eyes were glued to the object his father held so tightly.

Antonio Jesus Meneses looked tearfully at his son. Take this. Destroy it. It is cursed.

Jose held out his hand, and his father laid the turquoise in his palm. It felt cold to the touch. He examined it closely and recognized what it was, although he couldn’t name it. He also knew that such a piece would bring a great price in the valley.

With this, he said, we will have a mule, another room for the house, maybe even the pipe that takes caca away. We—

Destroy it! The strength of his father’s voice surprised him.

Why do you say it is cursed?

The old man closed his eyes and tears ran down his face.

A distant memory came back to Antonio, full of fangs and claws, and a struggle to conquer the woman with the green eyes.

First, I became her friend, then her confidant, and then she trusted me—agreed to walk with me through the ancient ruins above the cornfield. We never made it up there. I couldn’t control myself, I wanted her so badly. She was planning to leave the hacienda... said she was going to marry.

Antonio Jesus Meneses relived the effort it took to force her into the corn, how she screamed, scratched his face and bit into his shoulder. Even now, he felt a burning sensation from the scars he still carried.

I was strong in my youth, and tore away her underthings and freed myself. She kicked and twisted and continued to scream. I closed my hands around her throat to stop her screams. Then she relaxed, and I got down to business. She will stay with me after this, and she will learn to love me. That is what I thought.

He’d never feared being caught—in Mexico, ninety-eight percent of all crimes still went unpunished—yet he’d lived with his guilt, and God had punished him with a long life.

Why do you say that it is cursed, Jose repeated.

Show me where you found it, Antonio croaked.

Although the hoe waited less than thirty feet away, it took some time for his son to help him walk to the site. When they arrived, Antonio looked down at the hole. He shivered, knowing what they would find if the hole were made a few feet deeper.

I buried her with the little chunk of turquoise she wore around her neck. When I finished, I got drunk, and returned to the hacienda the next day to avoid suspicion. Her name was mentioned a few times in chismes, gossip that claimed she ran away with a man. They never asked if I knew anything. My relationship with Coszatl had developed sentence by sentence over the years... chance meetings when I emerged from the fields as she was washing clothes or weeding in the gardens. No one even noticed that we were becoming friends.

He heard a buzzing in his ear—his son’s voice wanting to know about the stone.

Clouds darkened the sky, and the first few drops landed on Antonio’s shoulder.

Yes, I think it is going to rain.

Tell me about this stone, Jose persisted.

He searched for the right words. It has blood on it, and whoever possesses it will have bad luck. It must be destroyed. Promise me that you will take it far away, smash it into a billion fragments and let the wind carry the dust. Promise me.

Jose had never heard his father speak with such passion, not even when he’d caught Jose as a teenager with a faded magazine photo of a naked woman, which had been circulated at his school. He determined to follow his father’s wishes.

Yet sometimes, determination isn’t enough.

Rain came harder. He held the jewel up to his face. He felt a burn on his hand and touched it—a black and white caterpillar had landed there, the kind with stinging hairs. Another dropped on his other hand, and he looked around.

Where are they coming from?

He looked at the corn, in the dirt below. Then he looked into the sky just as another dropped onto his forehead. He frantically ran fingers over his face and through his hair, as the caterpillars burned his fingers. He gripped the jewel, covered his head with his arms, and ran past his grandfather.

What is the matter? his father called out.

Jose kept running even as dozens more rained down on him.

The following Sunday, Jose complained of a bellyache, and declined to walk to the old adobe church with his wife, Delores, his son, Juan, and his old father.

It’s those damned worms, he explained. They’ve made me sick.

He knew that the whole ritual at the Catholic church would last about three hours—getting to the church, the mass, chismes with neighbors afterward—plenty of time to walk down the mountain to the reservoir at the hacienda, to throw the turquoise rock into the water, and ease his conscience.

Still, he was sorely tempted to keep it, have it appraised, and sell it to the highest bidder.

God is testing me. Father is right. I must destroy it. Yet, isn’t it enough just to drown it?

Jose arrived in an hour, the downhill making the trip easygoing. He stood at the reservoir, surrounded by bulrushes and reeds. It provided water for the entire operation at the hacienda. A boat, belonging to the Fernandez family, floated on the large bowl of water.

His grandfather had worked for Don Luis Fernandez for nearly forty years. Now, the grandsons ran things. They each drove black Buick Touring cars, and siphoned the surplus of money that Don Luis had put aside for rainy days to fuel their greed for things. Their hunger knew no bounds. Jose gazed at the boat and wondered at the excess of it, so out of place in this dry part of Tlaxcala. The boat had a cabin, and looked as if it served no other purpose than to float, like a fancy duck lure.

If you keep the stone, you could have one of those, echoed in his mind. His hand tightened over the stone. You could maybe even build your own hacienda....

No! Without further hesitation, Jose flung the stone as far as he could. It splashed and made concentric rings that eventually lapped at his feet. He immediately felt better, and as he walked away, he thought he heard a whispering voice. He turned in a circle.

Must be the wind through the bullrushes.

When he returned to the house, his father sat on the front step in his chair, consisting of two cement blocks with a plank of wood on top. Jose stopped before him, and saw that his face was grim.

Jose’s ten-year-old son, Juan, stepped out of the house, having changed out of his church clothes. Father, did you see what mama found in the bean pot?

Jose shook his head.

Jose’s father raised his head and held out his hand. This, he said. The stone sat there in the meat of his palm.

But I.... He couldn’t finish. I told you to destroy it.

But I did! I took it to the reservoir and—

Antonio Jesus Meneses gestured to a flat piece of cement left for years, as a kind of front doormat. Find something heavy and smash it there, he ordered.

Juan narrowed his eyes at this new thing.

Why do they wish to destroy something so beautiful?

He watched his father walk a ways, then stoop to pick up a heavy rock, a natural hammer with which to render the stone into dust. Juan knew better than to question his father, that he would receive a well-deserved slap for interfering in men’s business, so he just watched as his father placed the stone on the flat cement.

His father lifted the rock, and his hands were shaking. Then he brought it down over and over, picking up the scattered pieces to pound over again, until only tiny pebbles remained. Then he continued pounding and grinding, until the stone was made dust.

Boy, get my mezcal for your father, his grandfather ordered.

Juan ran into the house, retrieved the bottle, returned to the porch, and handed it to his father.

Antonio Jesus Meneses pointed to the dusty remains. Take it far from here. Pour mezcal over it and burn it.

Yes, Padre. Jose’s voice was weak.

Can I come? asked Juan.

His father shook his head, yet Antonio Jesus interjected. Yes. Go with him to make sure it gets done.

Juan’s father trembled as he brushed the dust onto a yellowed page of old newspaper and walked down the hill. At the bottom, he placed the paper in a bare spot away from dry weeds. In the distance, a man wearing huaraches stood in the doorway of his house with hands on his hips, watching as his father poured a good portion of the mezcal over the dust, making it into a paste. Then he took a box of wooden matches from his pocket and struck the black strip on the side of the box. Cupping the flame with his other hand, he held it to the paste. It blazed quickly, hissing like an angry iguana.

A small plume of smoke entered Juan’s nostrils.

When it was finished, they rose to their feet and trudged back up the hill. Jose stopped once to take a long swig from the bottle.

Later that day, Juan returned to the site and found a small piece of turquoise that had escaped destruction. He put it into his pants pocket and kept it for good luck.

Nothing was seen of the jewel for many years.

Antonio Jesus Meneses died in his bed the following spring, a look of resignation on his face.

Jose found a job at the hacienda.

Delores had another son and named him Omar.

One day, Juan, who was now twelve, read in a discarded newspaper about a job. The Mexican President, Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was on the front page. Buried deep on page seven was an announcement about a large construction project in Mexico City. Juan decided to leave. He didn’t dare tell his father or mother. He didn’t even confide in his ten-year-old brother, Omar.

He took as many of his belongings as he could carry on his back and left hours before dawn. He hopped a train to Puebla, and from there, hopped another that took him close enough to the address in the paper—a two-day walk.

Chapter 2 – American Dream

Mexico City, 1955

Jose Luis Castro Meneses was forty-three. He had helped build subways, railroads, streets, homes, businesses, and lived in a rat infested one-bedroom flat in a shanty-town with no name. For the first few years, he’d promised himself to return to his home in Tlaxcala to explain why he’d left. Each evening, he returned to his room too tired to consider it.

Is father still alive? Mother? What is my little brother Omar doing? What year is it? How old am I now? He lay on a mattress and stared at the sooty ceiling. Then his thoughts returned to a woman he’d recently encountered—Renata—when he was so desperate and depressed that he actually visited a nearby church in an effort to find some relief. Only a few people were gathered there, on their knees, praying. He remembered as a child when the church fired sky-rockets into the air one morning at a celebration. He stared up at the trailing smoke left behind and said, One day they are going to shoot God out of the sky.

His grandfather had scowled and slapped Jose’s face with the back of his hand. Later, his father smiled and whispered, Maybe you are right.

Renata sat alone in the third pew from the back, and he had a good feeling about her. She was about his age, and he was lonely. He left the church to find the old woman who sold roses in front and bought one. Then he sat in the very back pew and waited. Soon, Renata rose to her feet, crossed herself, and exited. When he caught up to her, he said, Excuse me.

She stopped. He held out the rose. Renata smiled and held it to her nose. Gracias. Then she narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Why are you giving me this?

Juan shrugged. No reason. I just wanted to.

A month later, he persuaded her into his bed. After exhausting themselves, they talked about their common yearning to leave Mexico.

I have cousins living in LA, Renata told him, pulling the sheet up to cover her breasts.

Then, what are we waiting for? said Juan, pulling the sheet back down.

A few weeks later, they hitchhiked to the border of California with backpacks. Each carried a few precious items. Juan kept his folding knife and a few US dollars tucked in the front pocket of his pants. Renata wore a necklace that Juan had made for her using the piece of turquoise he had rescued many years before. She accepted it in lieu of a wedding ring.

They eventually made it to Tijuana and were two of the 4.6 million guest-workers given permission to enter the USA in 1956. It was August third, one-hundred and three degrees when they crossed the border. They lived for a short time in LA with Renata’s cousins, even though twelve other people lived there. They worked in the central San Joaquin Valley for a short time before finding more of Renata’s cousins living in Atascadero, inland from the central Californian coast. Juan quickly found work in the vineyards. Nineteen-fifty-six was a year of change, especially when Renata found herself pregnant with me—Ricardo Meneses.

Chapter 3 – The Change

Atascadero, 1970

Atascadero was a torpid little town, waiting for the sun to shine. That wasn’t to say the people who live there were cold-blooded—just a bit sluggish. Who could blame them? Until the seventies, not much happened in this hamlet, located a little more than half-hour from the cold, Pacific Ocean. The slow pace lulled us into a false sense of well-being. When change arrived, Atascadero (deep mud in Spanish) didn’t have time to process. The provinces chose Deep Mud as a game board. I guess the adage is true: when it rains, it pours... and then it turns into mud.

I am Ricardo Meneses, but my parents mangled it into Ricky. I hated the sound of it... a squeaky wheel, fingernails scraped along a chalkboard. Ri-i-i-cky! My parents claimed it sounded more American. I learned Spanish from my parents, yet it eventually evolved into a curious mixture called Spanglish, which was a great disappointment to them.

My folks, Juan and Renata Meneses slipped illegally across the border a year before I was born. They met in Mexico when Papa was forty and Mama was thirty-eight. She was previously married and by some miracle had avoided the fate of thirty percent of all women in Mexico—becoming a single parent. My father had another kid wandering around somewhere in Mexico City, but as soon as the woman told him she was pregnant he stopped seeing her.

In 1956, as my parents told it, they wanted a fresh start, a chance to live the American Dream. After hopping around LA and the central San Joaquin Valley, we ended up in Atascadero, six hours North of the Tijuana.

My father worked in the wine vineyards, my mother cleaned houses, and I started school at Atascadero Elementary. My kindergarten teacher, Mr. Johnson, was my first experience with a black person. His positive influence began molding me into a halfway decent human being. I still believe kindergarten is the most important grade level. Papa tried his best to be a good husband and father, yet he had two strikes against him. Strike one, his wife, and strike two, my mother.

The November after I was born, Mama began having hot flashes. Her fuse grew shorter and shorter, and my father began working lots of overtime to avoid coming home. She bickered constantly, digging into his self-esteem and making him feel incompetent. The worst is that she no longer took any interest in him romantically. By the time I was five, I no longer heard the thumping of the headboard and accompanying pleasurable sounds through the thin wall of my bedroom. I think that’s when my father started to fade.

Before high school, I labored on Saturdays with my father in the vineyards. During the summer, I was there six days a week. The owner, Roy Blanchard, grew Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and paid a dollar an hour, which barely covered school supplies and a few clothes. Blanchard had a son my age who attended school with me, but he never set foot in the vineyards.

It was good to be with my father. We cut cane just before spring and pruned all summer. Papa was popular with the other workers and liked to flirt with the women who wore scarves to protect their neck and heads from the sun. Men donned caps or straw hats. One woman, Esperanza, had long, raven hair and a nice shape. She was around forty. My father couldn’t keep his eyes off her, and she knew it. He liked to sing Mexican songs as he worked, especially Besame Mucho when Esperanza was nearby.

During breaks, Father told me things that I still remember.

When I was six, he said, Son, be careful with women. Black Widows are beautiful but dangerous.

He never mentioned who he referred to, yet I knew Esperanza was a Black Widow and my father

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