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Disregarding the scratchy bushes, I dashed after the dog, who was scurrying through the
sagebrush with reckless speed.
I soon lost sight of its golden fur shimmering amidst the fragrant wild shrubs and
followed the sound of its barks, growing fainter and fainter in the distance.
Uneasily, I glanced at the thick fog advancing on me.
It closed in around the spot where I stood and within moments there was no sight of the
sky. The late afternoon sun, like a subdued ball of fire, was scarcely discernible. And the
magnificent view of the Santa Monica Bay, now more imagined than seen from the Santa
Susana Mountains, had disappeared with incredible speed.
I wasn't worried about the dog getting lost.
I, however, had no idea where to find the secluded spot my friends had chosen for our
picnic. Or where the hiking path was that I had taken to chase after the dog.
I took a few hesitant steps in the same general direction the dog had followed, when
something made me stop.
Emerging from above, through some crack in the fog, I saw a tiny point of light
descending toward me. Another one followed, then another, like little flames tied to a
The lights trembled and vibrated in the air, then just before they reached me, they
vanished, as though the fog around me had swallowed them up.
Since they had disappeared only a few feet in front of me, I moved on, closer to the spot,
eager to examine that extraordinary sight.
As I peered intently into the fog, I saw dark, human shapes glide through the air, two or
three feet off the ground, moving as though they were tiptoeing on clouds.
One after the other, the human shapes squatted, forming a circle.
I took a few more vacillating steps, then stopped as the fog thickened and absorbed them.
I remained still, not knowing what to do.
I felt a most unusual fright. Not the fright I am familiar with, but one in my body, in my
belly; the kind of fright animals must have.
I don't know how long I stood there.
When the fog cleared enough for me to see, I saw to my left, about fifty feet away, two
men sitting cross-legged on the ground.
They were whispering to each other, and the sound of their voices seemed to be all
around me, captured in small patches of fog that were like tufts of cotton.
I didn't understand what they were saying, but I felt reassured as I caught a word here and
there: They were speaking in Spanish.
"I'm lost!" I shouted in Spanish.
Both men slowly turned around, hesitant, disbelieving, as though they were seeing an
I spun around, wondering if there was someone behind me that was causing their
dramatic reaction; but there was no one.
Grinning, one of the men rose, stretched his limbs until his joints cracked, then covered
the distance between us in quick strides.
He was young, short, and powerfully built, with massive shoulders and a big head. His
dark eyes radiated amusement and curiosity.
I told him that I had been hiking with friends and had gotten lost chasing after their dog.
"I've no idea how to get back to them," I finished.
"You can't go any further this way," the man warned me. "We are standing on a cliff."
He took me confidently by the arm and led me to the very edge of the precipice, no more
than ten feet away from where I had been standing.
"This friend of mine," he said, pointing to the other man, who had remained seated,
staring at me, "had just finished telling me that there is an ancient Indian burial ground
down below when you showed up and nearly scared us to death."
He studied my face, my long blond braid, and asked, "Are you Swedish?"
Still bewildered by what the young man had said about the burial ground, I stared into the
Under normal circumstances, as a student of anthropology, I would have been thrilled to
find out about an ancient Indian burial ground.
At the moment, however, I couldn't care less if there was indeed one in that foggy
emptiness below me.
All I could think of was that if I hadn't been distracted by those lights I might have ended
up buried myself.
"Are you Swedish?" the young man asked again.
"I am," I lied and immediately regretted it. I couldn't think of any way to correct it,
though, without losing face.
"You speak Spanish perfectly," the man commented. "Swedish people have a marvelous
ear for languages."
Although I felt terribly guilty, I couldn't help adding that more than a gift, it was a
necessity for Scandinavians to learn various languages if they wanted to communicate
with the rest of the world.
"Besides," I confessed, "I grew up in South America."
For some strange reason this piece of information seemed to baffle the young man.
He shook his head, as if in disbelief, and then remained silent for a long while, deep in
Then, as if he had arrived at some kind of a decision, he took me briskly by the hand, and
guided me to where the other man was sitting.
I had no intention of socializing: I wanted to get back to my friends as soon as possible,
but the young man made me feel so at ease that instead of asking them to lead me back to
the hiking path, I gave them a detailed account of the lights and human shapes I had just
"How strange that the spirit would spare her," the seated man muttered as if to himself,
his dark brows drawn together in a frown.
But obviously he was talking to his companion, who mumbled something in return that I
They exchanged conspiratorial glances, intensifying my feelings of unease.
"I beg your pardon?" I said, turning to the man who was sitting. I didn't get what you
He stared at me aggressively and morosely.
"You were warned of the danger," he stated in a voice that was deep and resonant. "The
emissaries of death came to your help."
"The who?" I felt compelled to ask, even though I had understood him perfectly well.
I examined him closely. For an instant, I had the certainty I knew him, but as I kept
staring at him, I realized I had never seen him before. Yet I couldn't completely discard
the feeling of knowing him.
He was not as young as the other man, but he wasn't old either.
He was definitely an Indian. His skin was dark brown. His hair was blue-black, straight
and thick as a brush.
But it wasn't only his outward appearance that was almost familiar to me: He was
morose, as only I could be morose.
Seemingly uncomfortable under my scrutiny, he rose abruptly. "I'll take you to your
friends," he mumbled:
"Follow me, and don't you dare fall down. You'll fall on top of me and kill us both," he
added in a gruff tone.
Before I had the opportunity to say that I wasn't a clumsy oaf, he led the way down a very
steep side of a mountain in the opposite direction of the cliff.
"Do you know where you are going?" I shouted after him, my voice sharp with
I couldn't orient myself- not that I am normally good at it- but I had not been aware of
climbing up a hill as I chased the dog.
The man turned around.
An amused little grin quickly lit his face, though his eyes did not smile.
He looked at me with a black, stony look. "I'm going to take you to your friends," was all
I didn't like him, yet I believed him.
He wasn't too tall- about five feet ten- and he was small boned, yet his body projected the
massiveness and compactness of a stocky person.
He moved in the fog with extraordinary confidence, stepping with ease and grace down
what I thought was a vertical drop.
The younger man climbed down behind me, helping me every time I got stuck. He had
the solicitous manner of an old-fashioned gentleman.
His hands were strong and beautiful, and incredibly soft to the touch. His strength was
He easily lifted me up and over his head several times; perhaps not an extraordinary feat
considering my puny weight, but quite impressive taking into account that he was
standing on shale ledges, and was no more than two or three inches taller than I.
"You have to thank the emissaries of death," the man who had led the way insisted as
soon as we had reached level ground.
"I do?" I asked mockingly.
The thought of saying thank you to the 'emissaries of death' seemed ridiculous to me.
"Do I have to get down on my knees?" I asked in between a fit of giggles.
The man didn't think I was being funny.
He rested his hands on his hips and looked me full in the eye, his narrow, gaunt face
There was something menacing about his stance; about his slanted dark eyes under the
bristly eyebrows running together over the bridge of his chiseled nose.
Abruptly, he turned his back to me, and moved away to sit on a nearby rock.
"We can't leave this spot until you thank the emissaries of death," he pronounced.
Suddenly, the realization that I was alone in a godforsaken place hit me.
I was fogged in with two strange men; one of them perhaps dangerous.
I knew he wouldn't budge from the spot until I fullfilled his ludicrous request.
To my amazement, instead of feeling frightened, I felt like laughing.
The all-knowing smile on the younger man's face clearly revealed that he knew how I
felt, and he was quite delighted by it.
"You don't have to go as far as kneeling," he told me, and then, no longer able to hold
back his mirth, he began to laugh.
It was a bright, raspy sound; it rolled like pebbles all around me. His teeth were snow-
white and perfectly even, like a child's.
His face had a look at once mischievous and gentle.
"It's enough to say thank you," he prompted me. "Say it. What do you have to lose?"
"I feel stupid," I confided, deliberately trying to win him over. I won't do it."
"Why?" he asked in a nonjudgmental tone. "It'll only take a second, and," he stressed,
smiling, "it won't hurt a bit."
In spite of myself, I had to giggle.
"I'm sorry, but I can't do it," I repeated:
"I'm like that. The moment someone insists that I do something I don't want to do, I get
all tense and angry."
Eyes on the ground, his chin resting on his knuckles, the young man nodded his head
After a long pause he said, "It's a fact that something prevented you from getting hurt,
perhaps even killed. Something inexplicable."
I agreed with him. I even admitted that it was all very baffling to me.
I tried to make a point about phenomena happening coincidentally at the right time; in the
"That's all very appropriate," he said.
Then he grinned and daringly nudged me on the chin. "But it doesn't explain your
particular case," he said:
"You have been the recipient of a gift.
"Call the giver coincidence, circumstances, chain of events, or whatever: The fact
remains that you were spared pain; injury."
"Perhaps you're right," I conceded. "I should be more grateful."
"Not more grateful. More pliable, more fluid," he said and laughed.
Seeing that I was getting angry, he opened his arms wide as if to encompass the
sagebrush around us.
"My friend believes that what you saw has to do with the Indian burial ground, which
happens to be right here."
"I don't see a burial ground," I said defensively.
"It's hard to recognize it," he explained, squinting at me as if he had trouble with his eyes.
"And it isn't the fog that prevents one from seeing it. Even on a sunny day, one sees
nothing but a patch of sagebrush."
He went down on his knees and, grinning, looked up at me. "However, for the knowing
eye, it's an unusually shaped patch of sagebrush." He lay flat on the ground, on his
stomach, his head tilted to the left, and motioned me to do the same.
"This is the only way to see it clearly," he explained as I lay down beside him on the
ground. "I wouldn't have known this but for my friend here who knows all kinds of
interesting and exciting things."
At first I saw nothing, then one by one I discovered the rocks in the thick underbrush.
Dark and shiny, as though they had been washed by the mist, they sat hunched in a circle,
more like creatures than stones.
I stifled a scream as I realized that the circle of rocks was exactly like the circle of human
figures I had seen earlier in the fog.
"Now I am truly frightened," I mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. "I told you that I saw
human figures sitting in a circle."
I looked at him to see if his face betrayed any disapproval or mockery before I added,
"It's too preposterous, but I could almost swear those rocks were the people I saw."
"I know," he whispered, so softly I had to move closer to him.
"It's all very mysterious," he went on:
"My friend, who you must have noticed is an Indian, says that certain Indian burial
grounds such as this one have a row or a circle of boulders.
"The boulders are the emissaries of death."
He looked at me closely, and then as if he wanted to make sure he had my full attention,
he confided, "They are the emissaries, mind you, and not the representation of the
I kept staring at the man, not only because I didn't know what to make of his statements,
but because his face kept changing as he talked and smiled. It wasn't that his features
changed, but his face was at moments that of a six-year-old child, a seventeen-year-old
boy, and that of an old man, too.
"These are strange beliefs," he continued, seemingly oblivious to my scrutiny:
"I didn't put too much stock in them until the moment you came out of the blue, as my
friend was telling me about the emissaries of death, and then you told us that you had just
"If I were given to distrust," he went on, his tone suddenly menacing, "I would believe
that you and he are in cahoots."
"I don't know him!" I defended myself, indignant at the mere suggestion, then whispered
softly, so only he could hear, "To be quite frank, your friend gives me the creeps."
"If I were given to distrust," the young man repeated, ignoring my interruption, "I would
believe that you two are actually trying to scare me. But I'm not distrustful.
"So the only thing I can do is suspend judgment and wonder about you."
"Well, don't wonder about me," I said irritably. "And I don't now what the hell you're
talking about anyway."
I glared at him angrily. I had no sympathy for his dilemma. He too was giving me the
"He's talking about thanking the emissaries of death," the older man said.
He had walked to where I was lying and was peering down at me in a most peculiar
Eager to get away from that place and those two crazy people, I stood up and shouted my
My voice echoed, as if the under-brush had turned into rocks.
I listened until the sound died away.
Then, as if possessed, and quite against my better judgment, I cried out my thanks again
"I'm sure the emissaries are more than satisfied," the younger man said, nudging my calf.
Laughing, he rolled on his back.
There was a wonderful strength in his eyes, in the delighted power of his laugh.
I didn't doubt for an instant, despite the levity, that indeed I had thanked the emissaries of
death. And most oddly, I felt myself protected by them.
"Who are you two?" I directed my question at the younger man.
In one agile, smooth motion he sprang to his feet. "I'm Jose Luis Cortez; my friends call
me Joe," he said, holding out his hand to clasp mine. "And this here is my friend
Afraid I would laugh out loud at the name, I bit my lip and bent to scratch an imaginary
bite on my knee. "A flea, I think," I said, gazing from one man to the other.
Both stared back at me, defying me to make fun of the name. There was such a serious
expression on their faces that my laughter vanished.
Gumersindo Evans-Pritchard reached for my hand- hanging limply at my side- and shook
it vigorously. "I'm delighted to make your acquaintance," he said in perfect English with
an upper-class British accent. "For a moment I thought you were one of those stuck-up
Simultaneously, my eyes widened and my mouth opened. Although something in me
registered that his words were meant as a compliment rather than an insult, my shock was
nevertheless so intense that I just stood there as if paralyzed.
I wasn't prudish- under the proper circumstances I could outswear anyone- but to me
there was something so appallingly offensive about the sound of the word cunt, it
rendered me speechless.
Joe came to my rescue. He apologized for his friend, explaining that Gumersindo was an
extreme social iconoclast.
Before I had a chance to say that Gumersindo had definitely shattered my sense of
propriety, Joe added that Gumersindo's compulsion to be an iconoclast had to do with the
fact that his last name was Evans-Pritchard.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone," Joe noted. "His father is an Englishman who abandoned
his mother, an Indian woman from Jalisco, before Gumersindo was born."
"Evans-Pritchard?" I repeated guardedly, then turned to Gumersindo and asked him if it
was all right for Joe to reveal to a stranger his family's skeletons in the closet.
"There aren't skeletons in the closet," Joe answered for his friend. "And do you know
He fixed me with his shiny, dark eyes that were neither brown nor black but the color of
Helplessly, I shook my head to say no, my attention held by his compelling gaze.
His one eye seemed to be laughing at me: The other one was dead serious, ominous and
"Because what you call skeletons in the closet are Gumersindo's source of strength," Joe
went on. "Do you know that his father is now a famous English anthropologist?
Gumersindo hates his guts."
Gumersindo nodded his head almost imperceptibly, as if he were proud of his hatred.
I could hardly believe my good fortune. They were referring to none other than E. E.
Evans-Pritchard, one of the most important social anthropologists of the twentieth
century. And it was precisely during this term at UCLA that I was researching a paper on
the history of social anthropology and the most eminent proponents in the field.
What a scoop! I had to restrain myself from shouting out loud and jumping up and down
with excitement. To be able to come with some awful secret like that. A great
anthropologist seducing and abandoning an Indian woman.
I was not in the least concerned that Evans-Pritchard hadn't done any fieldwork in
Mexico- he was mainly known for his research in Africa- for I was certain I would
discover that during one of his visits to the United States he had gone into Mexico. I had
the very proof standing before me.
Smiling sweetly, I gazed at Gumersindo and made the silent promise that, of course, I
wouldn't reveal anything without his permission. Well, perhaps I would just say
something to one of my professors, I thought. After all, one didn't come across this kind
of information every day.
My mind was spinning with possibilities. Perhaps a small lecture with only a few selected
students at the home of one of my professors. In my mind, I had already selected the
professor. I didn't partcularly like him, but I appreciated the rather childish manner in
which he tried to impress his students. Periodically, we met at his home. Every time I had
been there, I had discovered on his desk a note, left there as if by mistake, written to him
by a famous anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss.
"You didn't tell us your name," Joe said politely, gently pulling me by my sleeve.
"Carmen Gebauer," I said without hesitation, giving the name of one of my childhood
friends. To ease my discomfort and guilt at having lied again with such facility, I asked
Joe if he was from Argentina.
Seeing his puzzled frown, I hastened to add that his inflection was definitely Argentinian.
"Even though you don't look like an Argentinian," I noted.
"I'm Mexican," he said. "And judging by your accent, you grew up either in Cuba or in
I didn't want to continue on that line of conversation and swiftly changed the subject. "Do
you know how to get back to the hiking path?" I asked, suddenly concerned that my
friends might be worried by now.
"No, I don't," Joe confessed with childish candor. "But Gumersindo Evans-Pritchard
Gumersindo led the way across the chaparral, up a narrow trail on the other side of the
mountain. It wasn't long before we heard my friends' voices and the barking of their dog.
I felt intense relief, and at the same time I was disappointed and puzzled that neither man
tried to find out how to get in touch with me.
"I'm sure we'll meet again," Joe said perfunctorily by way of farewell.
Gumersindo Evans-Pritchard surprised me by gallantly kissing my hand. He did this so
naturally and gracefully that it didn't occur to me to laugh at him.
"It's in his genes," Joe explained. "Even though he's only half English, his refinement is
beyond reproach. He's totally gallant!"
Without another word or backward glance, both of them disappeared in the mist.
I doubted very much that I would ever see them again.
Overcome with guilt for having lied about my name, I was on the verge of running after
them when my friends' dog almost knocked me to the ground as it jumped on me and
tried to lick my face.
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