The ride was long, but the festivities would last for days and their accommodations would be richly comfortable. Marisol looked at her husband. He was more relaxed now that they were out on the road. The days leading up to the trip had been slightly uncomfortable. Where are you going on this journey that will take you from your estate for so many days? Friends. Going to visit friends for All Souls' Day. The less said the better. Which friends? Senor Calavera y Hidelga. The smiles fade, the faces grow closed. Oh. I see. The whispers behind their backs. They go to the house of Senor Calavera y Hidelga. Whispers of Santeria and things blacker still. The gestures made to ward away evil. Cancelations. Forgive me, Marisol, but my mother-in-law has fallen ill - we will not be able to join you for dinner after all. Confrontations. They are not good people, the Calaveras. To accept their hospitality is to invite evil.
"Nonsense," Miguel had said. "Senor Calavera y Hidelga is a fine man, with a prosperous estate. People speak ill of him because he does not tithe to the Church, but if the priest at that parish is going to spread rumors about him, why should he?" And so they accepted the invitation, and Marisol had felt guilty but glad that they were going to spend the holidays at such a marvelous hacienda. The magnificence of Senor Calavera's parties was touted everywhere. As the owners of the largest hacienda in their parish, Marisol understood and accepted her responsibility to help care for the less fortunate, but it would be so wonderful to go someplace glamorous, to stay in a house with plenty of servants and fountains and music and dancing all night long. So they went, though the elders in their town disapproved, though the peasants whispered and looked afraid when they passed, though they could not look each other straight in the eyes while discussing the matter.
The party was magnificent indeed. Wealthy men and women from all over the countryside had made the journey to come celebrate with Senor Calavera y Hidelga. Tables groaned under the weight of food, wine and champagne flowed like rivers, the courtyard was filled with the beautiful dresses of the women and the charming manners of the men.
Laughter arose from one corner of the courtyard. A pig had escaped from its pen and found its way among the party guests. Miguel was among the gallants, full of wine and high spirits, who took upon themselves the manly duty of catching it. There was much merriment as they pursued the pig from the courtyard. The incident was forgotten almost as quickly as it occurred, and the festivities resumed. Marisol was aghast when Miguel appeared a short while later, pale and shaking, to gulp down wine and clutch at her hand.
"What troubles you so?"
"The pig..." Miguel whispered, drawing her into a secluded nook under the blooms of a climbing rose. His jaw was clenched and his eyes distant with fear at the memory. "We pursued it out into the pasture. It ran down to the river and there it changed, it became a woman who rent at her clothing and pulled her hair."
"You are mistaken," Marisol murmured back. "It is the wine playing tricks on you. There was a peasant girl down by the river and you rowdy lot surprised and frightened her."
"No," Miguel shook his head, skin rigid with goosebumps. "I know what I saw. The pig became a pale woman, dressed in white and weeping. When we slowed and approached her, she turned to us and screamed, wailing in torment."
"Then I ran, Marisol," he admitted. "We all did."
"It was just a girl. You scared her."
Miguel took another draught of wine and allowed her to soothe him. "Perhaps you are right."
The music was wonderful, the dancing gay and delightful. They forgot their cares and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Paper lanterns were light to provide bright color to the surroundings, though the sun was not yet low in the sky. Marisol had gone to get another glass of wine to quench herself after a boisterous set of dances when she heard faintly on the breeze the sounds of the church bells calling the faithful to Mass for All Saints' Day.
"Oh," Marisol gasped. In the excitement of the day, she had forgotten about Mass.
"Is there something wrong, my dear?" A smooth voice by her elbow made her jump. She looked up into the handsome, well groomed features of Senor Calavera y Hidelga.
"Oh, Senor. I have been enjoying your party so, I seem to have missed Mass. Is the Church very far away?"
"About thirty minutes... I fear you would not make Mass in time, Senora."
"Will you be having Mass here for your guests?" she asked hopefully.
"Ah, Senora, in years past it might have been thus, but I fear that Padre Francisco and I have had a falling out. He refuses to come here, I refuse to go there. It is a tragedy. But do not worry... you can ride to the Church for Mass in the morning and confess your delinquency today. You do not miss Mass often, I think, Senora?" At Marisol's blush and agreement, Senor Calavera smiled comfortingly. "I'm sure then, this once will be forgiven. After all, this party has been such a tremendous occasion."
"I will be sure to do that, Senor. Thank you."
She was troubled. All Saints' Day was a holy day of obligation, a celebration of all the good people in the world that ever were or ever would be. Had anyone else recalled this important fact in time to leave this marvelous party and attend Mass? "Ah, alas," sighed one important guest after another. "We assumed Senor would be so kind as to invite Padre Francisco to come say Mass here on so great an occasion. What a crime of the good father to neglect us so."
It was difficult to be troubled in so gay an atmosphere, however, and soon Marisol was caught up in laughter and dance. It was very late that night when she and Miguel finally walked back to their well-appointed guest room, arm in arm, laughing about the day's events and exhausted from so long a ride and so much dancing.
The room was as beautiful as the rest of Senor Calavera y Hidelga's estate. The smooth adobe walls were thick and cool, muting the sounds and temperatures outside to produce a peaceful, comfortable quiet. Everything was whitewashed, sparkling clean and smelling faintly of perfumes and citrus. The guest bed was feather down, and with sighs of rapture, they fell onto the bed and were asleep before they could even say their nightly prayers.
Marisol dreamed of laughter and music, delightful dreams, but then she began to notice that the faces in her dreams were not smiling and laughing but grimacing and screaming, the sounds hidden under the string and brass of the musicians. A pervading sense of dread filled her and she awoke with a chill, looking about in the darkness of the room, her hearing too acute. "Who's there?" she whispered, looking about. Beside her, Miguel let out a groan and tossed in his sleep, and Marisol felt herself relax slightly. Of course. Miguel was having a nightmare brought on by too much wine and rich food, and it was this that had awakened her. Gently she reached out to wake him from the troubling dream.
Miguel let out a cry as she touched him, recoiling from her hand, then blinking fearfully in the darkness. "My husband, you were dreaming."
"Ai, Marisol. I dreamt that the guests were turning into pigs."
"You shouldn't eat so much before bed."
"No, I suppose not."
They lay together in silence for a few moments, as if waiting for something. Marisol realized what it was - she was waiting for the sense of evil from the nightmare to fade. From the time she was a small girl, that was always the way of things. Once you awoke from the dream, its power over you faded. More quickly still if you spoke to a loved one. But the fear still gnawed at her, even with Miguel laying awake next to her in the bed.
"Marisol," he whispered in the darkness after a few moments, "Marisol, I think perhaps your mother was right about our host. This is not a good place."
A chill overcame her as she realized he felt it, too. "Nonsense," she said firmly, trying to dispel her unease. "You are merely feeling guilty because you missed Mass. Let us say our prayers together and in the morning we will go to Mass. Merciful God loves the sinner as well as the saint, and who will harm what He protects? However, if we cannot remember our religious obligations, then we do not deserve to celebrate a religious holiday. After Mass in the morning, we will leave for home."
"You are right, my wife." As he bowed his head and began their prayers, Marisol expected the familiar feeling of comfort to overcome her, but instead her unease grew. The more they prayed, the more she felt unprotected, vulnerable, watched, hated. Glancing at her husband's clenched knuckles and the goose bumps on his flesh, she knew he felt the same and she became even more afraid. She looked over at him and wet her lips to speak when she felt a slow tug at the blankets.
In absolute shock, they both looked down toward the foot of the bed to see why the blankets might be sliding off. Had a housecat come in and stepped on the hems where they pooled on the floor? Had they both imagined the slight pull?
All at once, a strong, constant pull began reeling the blankets from the bed and sucking them underneath the frame. Their terror was absolute. As of one mind, they flew from the room, leaving their cloaks and their fine clothes, hurrying down to the stables. Miguel saddled their horses quickly, without even calling to wake the stable boy for help. When the night watchman approached them, Marisol made hasty excuses and mounted quickly. They rode straight home without pausing to refresh themselves, riding to the Church and interrupting the good Father at his breakfast to demand absolution. They performed their penance devoutly and never set foot on Senor Calavera y Hidelga's estate again.