Wagons Rolling Down the Mountain
I opened the balcony door and stepped out to the balmy evening. Rain had trickled down all afternoon and had wrecked our plans to climb the mountain under whose skirts the small hotel stood. It was an ancient house built during colonial times, made of adobe with dark and dank rooms. The balcony was a narrow ledge protected by wrought-iron, and I leaned on the railing as I gazed at the mountain nearby.
The sun had set moments before, and its last rays intensified the green of the mountain. Verde que te quiero verde, I thought, and watched the flitting hummingbirds defend their territory at the feeder in the walled garden below my room. Hummingbirds—such big wars raging in such tiny creatures. No wonder the Aztecs believed warriors reincarnated as hummingbirds; only the bees dared to defy them.
Dusk descended, and with it an eerie calmness. I pulled up a chair and put my feet up on the railing; the cicadas’ fervent buzz inundated the evening like radio static. A humid breeze blew and wafted waves of jasmine and honeysuckle.
In the distance I heard the soft rumble of thunder and hoped rain would not ruin tomorrow’s expedition, again. Yet, as I listened, I realized it was not thunder I heard, but the soft grumble of hooves, and the click-clack of wooden wheels. I strained my ears and, sure enough, I distinguished the clip clop of horses and the rackety-rack of carts. A pilgrimage?
I glanced at the mountain and watched in awe as a long string of red mist descended the mountainside. It wound through the rocks and trees as if following a well-trodden path.
I remembered what the owner had told us in the lobby, “Sometimes you can hear wagons coming down the mountain after a rainstorm. People say it’s ghosts, but I think it’s the wind blowing through the trees.”
I would have agreed with him. Yet no one had mentioned the red meandering mist.
The water in the bathroom stopped and Tom stepped out.
“Shower’s free,” he said, and approached in his jeans and wet hair.
I did not answer, but stared mesmerized at the haze; the clatter of hooves reverberated in the mellow dusk.
“What is it?” He asked.
I pointed, “The mist. Isn’t it weird?”
He watched for a moment and agreed. A white moon appeared in the sky and Venus, the evening star, blinked hello.
“How long has this gone on?” Tom wondered.
“A few minutes, it started after sunset,” I answered, “wait… listen.”
It was then I realized the cicadas were silent and the hummingbirds had vanished from the feeder. I told him so. Tom pulled up a chair beside me and we watched the fog snaking closer; it would soon engulf us.
The raucous hooves intensified, as if the sound belonged to the red cloudiness. Tom reached for my hand and squeezed it; there were no words in his mouth or mine.
The reddish mist was upon us now, and as it slithered past our balcony, I discerned the shapes and figures of horses and riders, and a regiment on foot. I recognized the puffy pants, armor plate, helmets and muskets of the conquistadors that had marched through this land five-hundred years before.
They tramped right under us, oblivious to the garden wall and hummingbird feeder dangling from the ahuehuete tree. The cannon rattled as a horse pulled it over uneven ground. A rearguard soldier glanced up in passing and caught my gaze.
“Señora,” his hollow voice rang in my ears as he nodded a gracious greeting.
The mist dissipated with the sudden flutter of a myriad of hummingbirds. Night fell. The sounds of hooves faded away as the cicadas chirped again. The soft breeze whirled jasmine, honeysuckle… and gunpowder.