With Halloween approaching, this excerpt from The Skinny Years seemed worth sharing. The setting: October 31, 1960 at the home of a Cuban family recently arrived in Miami.
An eerie wailing from the front door startled Abuela as she cracked another egg into the cast-iron skillet. The voices were shrill and insistent, uttering a bizarre incantation. In her sixty-seven years, she’d heard nothing like it.
After the signs of brujería in the neighborhood, Abuela was wary. Evil sorcery was lurking, she was sure of that. She inched to the kitchen door and peered toward the front of the house, straining to focus her failing eyes. What she saw nearly stopped her heart.
Lucifer was at the door.
The Prince of Darkness was accompanied by Death himself, his skull’s face staring in a wicked grin. Judging by their short stature, it was clear both had assumed the form of gnomes. Worse still, as they continued their eerie incantation, each demon was thrusting an orange gourd toward her with an evil smiling face.
“Triko-tree! Triko-tree!” they shrieked again.
Oblivious to the danger lurking at the door, Marta sat in the living room transfixed by the television.
Abuela fought a sudden weakness in the knees and the urge to urinate. She braced herself against the kitchen door, her mind racing. She had to compose herself. Her grandchild was in danger.
Then, with piercing clarity, an inspiration came to her.
Rushing to the kitchen sink, she filled a saucepan with water from the tap, then ran into the living room where she grabbed the plastic crucifix hanging on the wall.
“Be gone from this house! Leave us in peace!” she screamed in Spanish as she charged toward the front porch brandishing the crucifix and the saucepan. “This is holy water! This is holy water!”
* * *
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” Michael and Tommy Brewer called into the yellow bungalow’s screen door.
The porch light was on and the boys could see the gray glow of a television set flickering on the walls of the living room. An overhead light was visible in the kitchen at the back of the house.
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they screamed again, holding out their pumpkins expectantly.
After several seconds, Michael and Tommy finally saw a figure moving toward them in the house. At last, someone was coming to the door.
What they saw next left them petrified.
From the gloom of the living room, an old woman charged toward them screaming something they couldn’t understand, waving a crucifix and holding a saucepan. Her gray eyes glared wildly, exposing the white around her pupils. Paralyzed with fear, the boys stood rooted to the ground, their expressions of terror hidden behind their masks.
The deranged old woman opened the screen door and thrust the crucifix toward them, still shouting angrily. Thinking she might want him to take the crucifix, Tommy extended his basket tentatively toward the cross.
It was the wrong thing to do.
The old woman emptied the saucepan of water in his face.
Drenched and terrified, Tommy turned and bolted with Michael trailing less than a step behind.
* * *
An excerpt from The Skinny Years by Raul Ramos y Sanchez