Copyright © 2015 Diana Garcia. All Rights Reserved.
The apparition wavered in Nora’s bedroom, like some backlit statue leaning against the bedroom wall. She glanced at her clock on the dresser across her bed. The blue digital light gave the room a soft glow. It was two in the morning. The misty form began taking a masculine shape in old western wear with gun belts crisscrossing his chest as he put his hands to his waist and puffed himself up. He was smiling from ear to ear. His teeth were white and straight. Nora thought he looked vaguely familiar, from a faded old photograph in her grandfather’s study that she loved looking at when she was a child. Now, he was standing in her bedroom and this was no dream.
She wanted to scream but felt paralyzed. She attempted to move her arms and legs but the feeling of being tight in a vice frightened her more than the shimmer of a man standing before her. Her mouth felt glued shut, and as hard as she tried, was unable to open it to speak, or scream. The form shimmered before her like some holographic tableau.
“Who are you?” she whispered in her head.
“You know who I am.” The spectre replied
Cigar scents permeated the room. The pungent smell of smoke and ash was as visceral as the form before her. Nora breathed it in and inhaled a vague smell like perspiration. It made her shiver at the scent which was his essence. It was all so familiar.
“What do you want with me? Go away!”
“Chiquita, you know why I am here. You’ve forgotten about me. I’m here to rectify this because my visit has deep meaning for me.”
Nora stared at the vapory figure taking a more solid form and asked,
“What are you talking about? Please go. I’m really scared! Our Father whom art in heaven, hollowed be thy name…”
“Oh, cut the bullshit Chiquita. Tu sabes it won’t work on me! Hijole, calmate Chiquita.”
“Quit calling me CHIQUITA!”
The ghost said, “Your name was Elena. Do you remember the name? Elena Mejia?”
His deep resonant voice echoed around her in stereo. It made her look around her moonlit room. She was not sure if she was awake or asleep.
“Please go” she whispered “my name is Nora. You are haunting the wrong house!”
Yet, the name, Elena, gave her comfort, and the fear dissipated leaving questions in its wake. She settled under the covers and did not feel the cold chill which shook her awake, but felt a liquid warmth, like mercury, flow from her toes upward to her body as she relaxed.
Nora suddenly felt released from her paralysis and was able to move and open her mouth. Although the man stood in the corner, she also felt unseen and warm hands gently touch her arms, which warmed her and made her feel comforted. It was an eerie feeling she would never be able to explain.
“You were a nurse, Elena. Not just any nurse. You saved many lives. You made a difference.”
Feeling fully awake and freed from restraints, Nora whispered, “I know you now. Pancho?”
“Aye, Chiquita, I see the cobwebs are clearing from your head. Si, Chiquita.” He heaved his leg, cowboy boot and spur, up on the chair in the corner of her room. A cigar materialized in his hand like magic. He settled himself with his elbow resting upon his uplifted knee and said,
“My revolucionarios worshipped the ground you and your nurses walked upon. You founded the Cruz Blanca. Remember? The Red Cross refused to attend to revolutionaries.” His laugh was deep and rich with cadence. He shook his head as if remembering something unknown to her. His dark hair and mustache gleamed as if he stood before a fire, in another dimension, in another environment totally different from a simple modern bedroom with four walls.
He looked down to the floor as if examining something, and continued,
“I was in love with you Elena, but did nothing about my love and admiration for you. You were a tough and stubborn nurse, and so bonita” He mockingly raised and lowered his eyebrows, but then sighed as he reflected upon his words,
“I watched you patiently remove a man’s arm because it hung on him in pieces and it bloated and oozed with infection. It did not bother you. You bit your beautiful bottom lip as you did what you must. Elena, you were an angel among the screams and the dying. You looked so radiant, with your black hair in a long braid, working, covered in blood and gore. Oh! How I admired you, Chiquita, I think I was in love with you. I was told you never took rest. I worried about you.” He looked around the room and shook his head in regret, remembering, wistful and wanting.
“I am still a nurse, Pancho, in an emergency room at the hospital.” Nora reflected on what the man said about her past life. She now knew everything he talked about.
He said, “I know. You are the same just in a different body.”
It was a memory she never realized she possessed, another person’s life.
How could this be? She thought.
This dashing man with obsidian orbs bore into her. This man, with leather gaiters, dusty boots, and spurs that clinked whenever he moved, ignited something deep inside her. Nora never felt like this for anyone, this feeling of awe. This man, which now dominated her bedroom with his presence, was the one and only, Pancho Villa.
She also knew, felt, he wasn’t here to just remind her of her past life. She waited for him to say the words. To ask for forgiveness, not just for himself, but what his cruel henchman, Rodolfo Fierro, had done to her a lifetime ago. She was just thankful the ghost was not Fierro.
She whispered, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Nora Sanchez, emergency nurse, lived for her work. The staff and doctors relied on her and she couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life. It was what she had always wanted to do.
As a child, she would play with her little brother, Benjie, pretending to hear his heart beat with her play stethoscope, and whenever he came home with cuts and scrapes she would rush for the methylate, Neosporin, and Band-Aids, all the while lecturing him about the risk of infections. Their mother was a nurse and worked at the County Hospital and, as long as Nora could recall, worked arduous hours.
Nana Nora — Nora’s namesake — would make sure that brother and sister cared for each other because, most times, she was sequestered in the kitchen cooking and watching her telenovelas; otherwise, Nana was in the backyard working in her beloved garden among her corn, beans, and squash.
Little Nora and Benjie were left to play “pretends” or they ran to the park, which was directly across the street from their house. They played all day during summers, climbing trees, playing tag with the other kids, swinging on the swings, and riding and taking turns spinning on the merry-go-round.
As a result, Nora was the little nurse and caregiver of any hurt children who fell or cut themselves. She brought them home, so she could clean their wounds, stop their bleeding, and gauze and tape them up. Nana Nora clucked over them as if they were little chicks and gave endearments to the hurt children.
The old woman always wore an apron with big pockets, which were perpetually filled with treats. However, Nana Nora preferred to tend to the birds, or stray cats and dogs the children brought home. She would hug the children and make sure they ate a cookie or a bowl of ice cream before shooing them out back to “across the street,” which meant the park.
All the children in the neighborhood referred to the park as “across the street.” The animals, Nana Nora kept with her. She preferred the birds and other animals to humans, and would take them out to the backyard to show them their new home. She always had a dog or cat, or both, at her feet, and with a bird – a crow, parrot, or cactus wren, any bird – on her shoulder as if it belonged there. Nana Nora was a nurse to animals, while Little Nora preferred tending to children.
Such was Nora’s childhood, normal and precious, with great memories of her Nana Nora and everyday living her dream of wanting to be a nurse. She loved taking care of people.
However, since childhood, Nora would wake from night terrors and nightmares she could never remember. It just became a way of life for her and her family, which continued throughout adulthood. She would wake screaming in anguish, but she could never remember why. Because of these night terrors, Nora felt she could never marry, or fall in love with anyone, too embarrassed at the thought of sleeping with a man whom she would undoubtedly keep awake nights, fearing he would eventually leave her for a good night’s sleep.
The day things began getting weird was like any other day, crazy and fast paced. The dreams started coming to her during the day, as she was lucid and going about her work. The emergency room was crazy busy with the rush of sirens announcing the arriving ambulance, of rushing firefighters or EMT’s wheeling in hurt individuals for urgent care, of crying babies, and people animatedly talking in the waiting room. Yet, every now and then, she heard someone say her name. It was a man’s voice, who said something in Spanish off in the distance of her mind. She would turn her head to say, “Que?” But no one was ever paying attention. Weird, she thought, but always shook it off. Work was too hectic.
It was a typical busy day in the emergency room. Nora was working on her second shift without any sleep, because the holidays in the city brought in more activity than was usual. She finally found a window in time to go take a nap in the hospital nurse’s bunk/locker room. It was a restless sleep. Her body squirmed with every noise and squeak that was heard. When sleep came it was deep, soundless, and calm.
There was gunfire and lots of dust and dirt, her throat felt dry and gritty. She awoke and screamed, loud.
She was hog tied; face down, on a dirt floor in a rickety hut. She could see through the slats and heard male laughter and horses neighing. A fire in a crude stone fireplace nearby created a suffocating heat and blackish smoke. She turned her head to avoid the painful heat on her cheek and, there before her, was a naked woman, gagged, tied to a chair facing a man’s crotch as he played with himself, pants sagging around his ankles. His back was to Nora but she could see the fear in the naked woman’s face as the woman now looked at her begging for help with a look of sheer terror.
What could she do tied like this?! The man turned and faced Nora on the ground. Why was he looking at her? His small eyes formed slits by his fat cheeks and evil grin. There were crumbs on his thick hanging mustache. Fat Cheeks said something to her in Spanish, but it sounded like a faraway echo.
Nora woke with a jolt and looked around. She was on the cot with sweat streaming down her face as if she had been running. She looked at her watch and realized she hardly slept, but got up anyway and returned to work in the emergency room.
What the fuck was that? She thought. Was I dreaming?
The rest of Nora’s shift was a haze. She gently held the bruised and hurt child and whispered tender endearments to her in order to calm her down. Secretly, Nora did not want Child Protective Services to take the little girl away. Mother was dead, shot by Drunk Dad. He was taken away by police after the child told them in the hospital room what had occurred in their home. It was a sad story. Nora had seen this happen plenty of times. The little girl was bruised from a beating when she tried to protect her mother. She had cut her foot on broken glass during the violent scene, a memory that would most likely stay with the child for life. The child screamed as she was ripped from Nora’s arms. The police told Nora an aunt would be picking her up in the morning. Nora, already in a dream state told the officer, “That’s good. At least she has family. Otherwise I would gladly take care of her.” She and Officer Valdez were old friends and occasionally met for lunch or happy hour. She was exhausted and the need to go home and sleep for days was what she desperately needed. It was time to leave the clutches of the hospital and get sleep, or at least try to rest, but her dreams were getting worse.
Lately, her night terrors were set in the same timeframe and same environment as far as she could remember. With the dreams came the pungent lingering dusty scent of horses which, for her, wasn’t all that unpleasant, and after that she would wake from overwhelming sulfuric odors she couldn’t place.
Fat Cheeks stood before the woman in the chair so that his crotch was facing her. She cried out as he slapped her face with all his might. Nora looked at his fat backside and sagging buttocks. She looked away in disgust. She wished she could do something, anything, but she was tied too tightly at her wrists and ankles. Nora felt useless and did not wish to be witness to a violent rape.
She looked down at herself and was glad to see she was still fully clothed but did not recognize what it was she was wearing. A whoosh of dirt, and wind, entered the smoke-filled hovel, a blast was heard and Fat Cheeks fell atop the screaming crying naked woman. Nora heard another scream, and realized it was her due to at the pain in her ears from the gun blast.
She looked up, a fierce looking man with beady eyes, yet dressed very much like Fat Cheeks, with suede pants and gaiters and dusty boots, but he was not fat. He was tall and bulky with muscles and a bull-like neck. He was terrifying. He glanced at the naked woman and dead man as he walked toward Nora and with swift action cut her ropes with a huge knife she never realized was in his other hand that did not have a pistol.
“Get up! Follow” He barked in Spanish and left the hut with no door because he kicked it off its hinges as he exited.
Nora rushed to the woman and pushed a very dead half naked Fat Cheeks off the blood-soaked woman, then went to the far end of the room and picked up a pile of clothes. She quickly ran back and put it on the woman’s lap. She tried to calm her as she untied her rope bindings. Nora quietly gave patient whispers and endearments, much like she would with a child, and told the woman to dress, and run away. She left her there in a daze and followed the angry man with the dirty sombrero and bull neck.
Once outside, Bull Neck waved at Nora and wordlessly presented her to the infamous Pancho Villa.
She had seen him before. Once, in a makeshift tent hospital as she nursed hurt and dying men, women and children. She recalled that the hairs in the back of her neck raised and felt as if she was being observed. He looked away when she caught him looking at her. He and his entourage walked out of the tent with no form of acknowledgment.
Pancho Villa and a group of rugged looking men sat in chairs before her, as if they were a jury. Villa sat cross legged with his hand on one knee as his other hand held a cigar.
“Come closer.” He said in Spanish. “Your name is Elena, que no?”
“Yes, where are my nurses? I’m with the Cruz Blanca, and why was I beat and tied in there?” She cocked her head toward the dilapidated hut across the way as she spoke.
He spit out in anger, “Mira, instead of helping my men, as you should have, this pinche carbon,” Villa nodded his head toward Bull Neck, “saw you helping one of the pinche viejas that were screaming obscenities at me.”
Elena, with an angry tone that rivaled his, said, “You mean the lady that called you a Diablo? She had a broken arm that one of your pinche cabrones broke in front of me. I could not just walk away. I had to help her!”
“Listen!” He barked, “You and your nurses are here to take care of my men! Entiendes?!”
“I understand you perfectly! But the Cruz Blanca, which was founded by ME, is here to serve and provide care to EVERYONE, ENTIENDES TU?!!” She barked in equal measure.
Villa flicked his cigar toward her, which she sidestepped. He spat a big brown slug of mucous between his feet, and turned his head toward his sitting soldaderos, and with a gravelly laugh, said,
“Do you hear how this pinche vieja speaks to me?”
“They heard, and my name is Elena Mejia, Señor, not pinche vieja!” The men broke out with crude sputtering obscenities and laughter. To Elena, they cawed like murderous crows.
Villa, calmly sat with a smile on his face, but his eyes glared up at her with an intensity that made her legs weak.
The man sitting to his right slowly stood and turned to look at Villa. Villa nodded, and turned to speak to the man on his left as if she was never there. She had been dismissed.
The man who faced her had a cruel veneer, and a coal thick handlebar mustache. It barely covered a thin crooked mouth and yellow teeth that was smirking as he stood before her. He said,
“Do you know what I did to those pinches viejas that were shouting obscenities at mi General?”
Everyone knew about Rodolfo Fierro. He was known as Villa’s henchman, his shadow, his bodyguard. He was always at Villa’s side. She had heard of some things he had done or bragged about. He was cruelty incarnate and people knew to stay clear of him.
He grabbed her arm before she could answer, and pulled her along with him as he took long strides around a barnlike structure. It stood smoldering and crackling from a recent fire. He violently threw Elena to the ground and with a booted leg pinned her flat with her face in the dirt.
When she refused, he ground the heel on her lower spine, and as she cried out in pain –although she tried not to scream, she couldn’t help herself – he again barked, “LOOK UP!”
She knew what was there for her to see before she even looked. She now recalled why she had been violently beaten and hog-tied hours before. It was her punishment for helping a woman with a broken arm which had angered Villa and his men. She had been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
To her horror, she looked up to see smoldering mounds of black bodies, of the women who had been burned alive. There had been about sixty women, bunched together in groups of ten, and tied with thick rope.
Some of the women had been gagged; some had removed their gags and had shouted obscenities at the men on horseback. Villa and his men had forcefully conscripted their husbands, sons, and beaus, to fight in the revolution. A gunshot had nearly missed Pancho Villa as he rode by, and was the cause for the horror that ensued: When Villa demanded to know who had fired the pistol the women, in solidarity and anger, refused to point the shooter out. A woman in the group angrily yelled, “DIABLO!” This prompted the other women to shout obscenities. Some cried for their family members, who now belonged to the revolution.
Elena had been forced to watch their punishment.
The pungent smells that had awoken her from her unconsciousness was never that of the horses, but of burning hair and flesh. A conflagration of melted skin sliding off bones, and the putrid smell of burning hair mixed with the hideous odors of crispy flesh. It lingered in her nostrils. It mixed with the metallic and mineral taste that arose in her mouth and comingled with her bile. She choked and gagged at the macabre scene before her.
The cruel man, Fierro, laughed as he dug his heel deeper on her back. The pain of it almost made her faint. His laugh sounded like an insane patient she once had cared for when she was in nurse’s training and worked for a doctor in a mental institution. He sounded like a cackling hag. The insane laugh and the heavy heel on her back made her angry.
Elena squirmed from beneath his angry boot and quickly stood up with her back to the burnt offerings he had cruelly gifted her.
She could not speak. Elena felt her body shaking uncontrollably, which made Fierro laugh more. She glared with hatred at his weasel face thick with stubble. He disgusted her.
He sneered inches from her face,
“That’s what happens when a woman talks to mi General the way you just did!” He spat at her feet, and turned on the very heel he had just dug into the small of her back. She watched him roguishly walked back from whence they had come.
Elena fell to her knees in exhaustion. Her apron was no longer white but dirty, torn, and bloody. Yet, she grabbed it with both hands and lifted it to her face and wept like a child, crying in pain, anger, and anguish, at what she had been forced to witness.
She had been violently beaten, knowing full well it had been Fierro, after she had been forced to watch the grisly spectacle of moaning and screaming women hours before. She could never, would never, in this life, or the next, forget the piles of smoldering flesh, of moaning women, of women screaming “DIABLO!” as their skin melted from their bones.
Throughout the remainder of her life, Elena — now Nora — would never sleep soundly, but wake with night terrors and vicious dreams of burning, charred, moaning flesh, calling to her, making her feel queasy, as bile would rise to her throat.
Nora, sat on the edge of her bed and asked Villa’s ghost,
“How could you, Pancho? Why?” Tears flowed down her face as she asked him, looking at his boot on the floor.
The cigar gone, he knelt before her, cupped her chin, and looked at her, and said,
“That’s why I’m here Chiquita.” He gently whispered.
“When Fierro laughed and spit on your foot, I had to leave. I did not want to see your pain.” He slipped his arms around her waist where she sat.
“I never forgave myself for what I had Fierro do to those women. I hated myself, but could never admit it in life. I was fighting a war. Terrible things happened.” His voice was gentle yet it was filled with anguish,
“You were on your knees crying into your skirt as I rode off and I never saw you again. I couldn’t. I didn’t want you to ever see me again. I wouldn’t be able to bear it. Yet, I never forgot you.”
Nora sighed deeply. She was exhausted, yet torn in her feelings for this man. They looked at each other and spoke without words: a lifetime, sparks, a force, bonded them at this moment in time.
Nora fell limp in his embrace, as she too slid on the floor to kneel before him. He rocked her as if she was a child, whispering inaudible endearments into her hair, in her ear, with his eyes closed. She felt released, comforted, somehow vindicated that he would come to her from so very far away, and she knew she could now sleep for days uninterrupted.
“One last thing, Chiquita.”
“Don’t call me that, por favor,” she said still with her head on his shoulders, facing the wall, his chest heaving from speaking, and from his steady breathing. The cigar scent lingered in his shirt and she inhaled deep because the scent comforted her. He was still gently rocking her to and fro when he spoke,
“Fierro died a horrible death.” His deep laughter made her laugh too, and she looked at him questioning him with her look,
“Oh yes, he died in the mud like a dog, ese animal. The quicksand pulled him down to the underworld as he screamed for his men to help him out. He offered them money and gold. Tu sabes? Not one pinche cabron helped him. They stood there and watched the mud suck him down, down, down.” He said this with a smile on his face. He put his hands on her elbows and leaned into her as they both helped each other stand. Villa grabbed both her hands and held them tight.
He said, “You know how I died, Elena?” and she replied, “I know from the history, but don’t talk about that now. Please?”
“Bueno, we won’t talk about that,” and he helped Nora into the bed. Villa pulled the covers up to her chin as a father would to a child, and asked,
“Will you sleep now, Chiquita?”
“Yes, please, don’t leave yet. Hold my hand,” which he did.
His hand was flesh on flesh, and he gently asked in a hoarse whisper, he too sounded tired, as his voice echoed,
“Do you forgive me, Chiquita?”
Nora nodded her head in a “Yes” as she embraced restful sleep.
Note to the reader. This short story is a work of fiction, however, it is loosely based on the true horror scene in this story. To find out more about the life of the Women of the Mexican Revolution, read award-winning author and journalist, Elena Poniatowska’s book, Las Soldaderas, a photographic book, wherein she writes about the account as described by writer, Rafael F. Munoz (Un Disparo Vacio), in which he wrote that sixty women were burned in fire pyres in groups of ten.
My short story, The Awakening of Nora, is a horror/paranormal short story and was originally published in Creepies 2: Things That Go Bump In The Closet, anthology. Published by WPaD Publications, 2015. See below for link.