Entry added August 2012 to the Guzmán-Gonzales family journal by Cassandra Luisa Gonzales.
When I finally broke down last week and told Nana about the dream I’ve been having since the accident, she didn’t say a word. All she did was hand me this journal. I’ve read it a hundred times and most of it still doesn’t make sense. It can’t. I’d rather be crazy than believe that the gorgeous stranger starring in my increasingly dirty dreams is some reincarnated Mayan hero.
What started as a passionate romp in my sleep with a hunky stranger has become something much more terrifying. Don’t get me wrong—they’re wonderful, erotic dreams. I’ve never found so much pleasure and passion in any man’s arms before. But each dream is stronger and more detailed than the last. He claims the magic is mine, that each time I dream him I’m binding him more fully to my world.
He’s not real.
So I kept telling myself. Until this morning when I woke up with a few token bruises and scuff marks from his enthusiastic lovemaking. Either I really am losing my mind and have started to hurt myself in my sleep—including bite marks on my neck—or Nana’s journal isn’t a bunch of myths. Myths I started to dream before I ever read them in these ancient pages so painstakingly copied generation after generation.
Now I find myself continuing the family tradition by adding pages to this journal, both to keep my sanity and as a warning. This is what happens when you lose your grip on reality. When you begin to fall in love with a man you’ve only known in dreams. When you become so desperate for the truth that you’re willing to leave behind everything to find him.
There’s only one way to find out if I’m as crazy as I fear, or if there’s a kernel of truth to these legends. I’ve decided to go to Guatemala and find out. I’m going to find Nana’s family. I’m going to talk to some of the people who were raised on the legends in her journal.
Even more importantly, I’m going to walk the ground where Técun Úman, the legend himself, supposedly lived and breathed.
Then maybe he’ll leave me the fuck alone.
Oh, don’t worry about me too much. I’m taking my best friend Natalie along for the ride. She’s ordered me to enjoy this desperate crusade as a vacation. Even if she has to commit me to an insane asylum before we fly home, we’ll start out by having a good time.
Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
I heard a quetzal calling outside my window again last night.
A few months ago—before I nearly drowned—I’d never even heard of the strange bird. Now it seemed to roost outside my window every damned night.
Glaring up at the invisible watcher hidden in the tree limbs, I muttered beneath my breath, “I thought quetzals were extinct.”
“Some say they are, because the bird we know today surely isn’t the magnificent bird of legend,” our guide said in an agreeable voice.
I don’t think anything would rattle José’s calm, leathery exterior. Until last week, I’d had no idea that I had quite so many relatives in Guatemala, yet they’d welcomed me with open arms.
“We still revere them,” José continued. “They are as important to the Maya as our ancient pyramids and stories about the old days.”
My best friend Natalie peered up into the shadowed growth like Sherlock Holmes. “I think that one has a red breast.”
She was determined to prove this mumbo-jumbo shit was all in my head. I couldn’t fault her for trying. In fact, I wished she could. I didn’t want some strange holy bird howling outside my window every night. Although that was a small price to pay if it meant I was going to have another sweaty, luscious night with my dream warrior.
Despite the sauna-like air filling my lungs and frizzing my hair, I shivered.
“Oh, very lucky, then,” José replied. “Let me tell you our legend of how the quetzal came to bear its red breast. When the great Técun Úman went to fight Pedro de Alvarado not far from here, his quetzal nahual, or spirit guide, went with him. Some say Técun even transformed into the mighty bird during the battle, his massive wings buffeting the Spaniards and shielding his people from their terrible weapons.”
José paused his tale as we reached the end of a long avenue of overgrown trees. Ahead, a sprawling house stretched across the countryside, beautiful despite the jungle trying to overtake it. Perched on the knees of a verdant volcano, the house commanded an incredible view of Lake Atitlán below.
Cradled between three massive volcanoes, Lake Atitlán claimed to be the most beautiful—and possibly the deepest—lake in the world. I couldn’t bear to look at it.
Water closing over my head. Cold. So cold. Blood on the water.
Shuddering at the memory, I shielded my eyes and scanned the house again. Rows of coffee fields curved up the side of the volcano. Birds sang in the trees, but I didn’t hear the annoying call of the quetzal that kept me up all night. With the huge bushes and towering trees in all directions, I could almost picture what Eden had been like. I’d never known such an incredible, lush green before coming to Guatemala.
“Are you sure this is it?”
“Of course I’m sure.” He smiled at me fondly. “The house is still deeded to Carla Guzmán Gonzales, your grandmother and my great aunt.”
Nana had set my feet on this adventure by giving me the journal.
No, drowning started this little nightmare.
“It’s probably not livable,” Natalie warned me. But she couldn’t hide the quiver of excitement. “No electricity. I bet you have to use an outhouse.”
“No one has lived here for at least thirty years, but we keep an eye on things,” José said. “The workers are here nearly every day in the fields, and I come once a month to check the house. With some work, it would be a beautiful palacio.”
Staring at the house where my grandmother had been born, I couldn’t deny a stirring deep in my heart. I imagined the veranda cleared of debris, the trees hacked back to manageable growth so I could sit out here, drinking coffee as the sun rose over the lake. “Do the coffee fields belong to the house?”
“Yes, but you would not have any worry in that regard. The fields have been managed by the Guzmáns for as long as I can remember. They do a very good job, and the money has protected the land and the home all these years.”
“I had no idea Nana owned a coffee plantation.”
So much of my family history had been a mystery until Nana passed the journal to me. Then I’d learned way more than I’d ever imagined. Why had she waited so long to tell me? Because she didn’t believe it herself? Or maybe after my mother’s death, she’d been afraid that maybe the journal’s claims were all too real. Thank God Natalie was with me to keep my feet grounded and help me differentiate between reality and what could only be fantasy.
We poked around inside the house a bit but once I heard something rustling in the pile of leaves that had blown inside, we quickly left. Natalie was right—the house wasn’t exactly livable. Not without a lot of work. As I set up the details of the cleanup with José, she stared down at the lake. I could almost hear her thoughts, because she was no doubt thinking the same thing.
A vacation house in Guatemala was exactly what I needed, even though I hadn’t known this place existed until a few weeks ago.
“How long have I been bugging you to take a vacation?” Natalie turned to me, grinning, but the concern in her eyes cut me to the quick. “You need this, Cass.”
I nodded and some of the shadows eased from her eyes. “It just seems like a fairy tale.”
“You deserve a fairy tale.” She tried to laugh, but we both knew how close I’d come to dying. She’d been the one to give me mouth-to-mouth until the paramedics arrived. We’d always been as close as sisters, but now I owed her my life, too. “Besides, whoever heard of a timeshare salesperson who never actually goes on vacation herself?”
Grateful that she returned to our long-standing banter instead of driving me to tears, I gave her a friendly shove. “The top salespeople never go on vacation, silly. We’re too busy making money selling other people their dream vacations.”
“Well, you’ve never sold a view like this.” She swept her hand toward the glistening lake and the hazy volcanoes in the distance. “This is pretty dreamy, Cass.”
I could only nod in agreement.
“Hey, you never finished your story, José. Why does the quetzal have a red breast?”
Thanks to Nana, I knew this part of the legend.
“Believing the horse Alvarado rode to be a part of a terrible man-beast, Técun Úman beheaded the creature. Unharmed, Alvarado took the opportunity to stab the great warrior in the heart with his spear. As Técun lay dying, his quetzal flew down to lie weeping on his breast until he drew his last breath. Ever since, the quetzal’s breast has been stained with Técun’s blood as a reminder.”
“A reminder of what? The Spaniards’ cruelty?”
José turned to me with a peculiar look on his face, careful and reverent. Of course. He’d heard Nana’s legends too. “That someday, he will return.”
Uneasy, I jerked my gaze back to the lake. I didn’t know if I could ever see so much water and not remember. The sound of crashing metal on metal. Thick smoke on the air, the stench of gasoline. The screams. Our small pontoon had been broadsided by a party boat, more of a yacht than Lake Taneycomo could really support.
Bone-chilling cold water had closed over my head while fireworks exploded behind my eyes. Blood on the water. My blood. I had died in that cold darkness.
I thought near-death experiences were supposed to be tunnels of light and a blessed feeling of peace, but I’d seen an obsidian pyramid. A man had pulled me out of the water and lifted me to the sun blazing at the top. I remembered the feel of his big hands on my back, the heat of his body bringing my cold, dead limbs back to life, his mouth on mine as he gave me his breath. Long blue-green feathers had hung in my face along with his hair, as shiny and black as the pyramid.
Most of all, I remembered him whispering in my ear. “You’re well named, Cassandra, for you can bring light to my people. Help me return. Only you can bring me through the gate.”
Even now, that distinctive growling voice made my bones want to dissolve my body into a pile of goo. Help me return.