Frank was awake long before the light of sunrise shone into his room. He was staying in the Hotel Victoria, which stands high on a hill on the west side of Oaxaca, facing the sunrise. The window of his room overlooked the City. In the light of the sun, that had just cleared the mountains to the east, he saw a thick layer of gray fog hiding all the streets and buildings that were spread out below him. In several places, pillars of smoke from cooking fires rose straight up through the fog, into the clear, breezeless air.
He thought, “Pillars of smoke”? Smoke of Pilar? How would a barbecued sacred maiden taste? Tender and juicy? No. Don’t think about Pilar that way.
She said she wants me to place a bet on her; betting that she’ll be the one whose heart gets ripped out. If I do bet one hundred, I’ll get an eleven-hundred dollar payoff. That would reimburse the cost of this entire vacation, with a good amount left over, but only if she’s dead. I refused.
Should I have refused? He wondered. Was I being rude? Showing disrespect for their beliefs?
If I attended a funeral in a synagogue, I’d put on a yarmulke out of respect, not because I’ve changed my beliefs. On the other hand, is my attending the potential sacrifice, of the girl who I made foqi with in a cheap hotel room just the same? My attendance could be seen as more than me just being respectful. I’d be expressing my approval of it all. If I attend, would I be repudiating my own beliefs?
But do I really want to disappoint the girl? Not grant her final request?
I can’t refuse! Pilar might be about to die, and she wants me there. I could also come home eleven hundred dollars richer, or one hundred dollars poorer. Besides, I wouldn’t actually have to bet on her. There are eleven other maidens to choose from, and the payoff would be just the same. When I get home from vacation I’ll repent.
Several hours later, in the heavy heat of approaching midday, Frank headed toward the Plaza Sacredo, moving with a crowd of local people, along a narrow street of unevenly paved blue stones, passing pastel colored, one story tall stucco houses, with orange tile roofs. He was almost a block away and he could hear the music of the fiesta.
The Fiesta at El Plaza Sacredo had been going on for a few hours, when Frank arrived among the revelers. Thousands of Oaxacanos, along with a large number of Turistas were already there and in a festive mood. Cabanas had been set up around the edges of the Plaza, selling food and drink. The hot dry atmosphere beneath the heavy sun was filled with laughing voices, the aromas of tortillas being eaten and cervezas being drunk; and the music of a mariachi band quickly engulfed him.
Across the street from the south end of the Plaza, he saw a very large crowd of people outside the Azteca Loteria office, waiting to purchase tickets. The Supreme Council of Caciques received a substantial amount of its income from the Lottery. Frank took one look at the size of the crowd, and was glad he’d purchased his ticket at the pharmacy in his Hotel’s lobby. The Sacrificial Ceremony was scheduled to begin soon, and he wouldn’t have enough time to buy a ticket now.
He wandered through the festive crowd heading in the direction of the Teochacali.
The Teochacali stood across the narrow street that separated the Sacred ground from the north side of the Plaza. The structure was a four sided, two story high, flat topped pyramid, with a single broad stairway rising from the street, going across its front face, to the platform at the top of the structure, where the sacrifices would occur. At the rear of the platform, a brightly colored Sacred Aztec Calendar Disk stood, presenting the images of many Teochacos encircling the face of the Gran Teochaco at the center. The diameter of the disk was equal with the width of the platform.
Half way between the Sacred Disk and the Stairway, the waist high, rectangular stone of sacrifice stood, waiting for the maiden who’d soon be giving her ripped out heart as a gift for the Teochaco. Between the Stone of Sacrifice and the Stairway, the stone figure of Chac Mool reclined on its back, facing out toward the Plaza Sacredo, while holding an empty bowl on its stomach.
Frank made his way through the thickening crowd, in the direction of the palm tree framed Teochacali. Far in the distance, the jagged bluish green mountains of the Sierra Madre del Sur range, rose high beneath the glowing blue sky, with a line of thick, cumulous clouds drifting above them.
As he came to the north edge of the Plaza, he got a clear look at the dozen bare breasted Sacrificial Maidens, wearing the short, bright colored skirts and sandals, with the peacock feathers rising from backs of their headbands.
A few of the girls were seated upon the Teochacali’s lower steps, casually chatting very amiably with each other and with people from the crowd. Others sat above them, on the edge of the platform with their legs dangling over the side, while they called down to people, or blew kisses at them. He recognized Juanita. She was actually seated on the Stone of Sacrifice with her legs crossed, chatting flirtatiously with a guy standing beside her.
Frank now stepped out from the crowd, into the street between the Plaza and the Teochacali grounds. He took a few steps and halted. He saw Pilar among the cheerfully chatting girls seated upon the lower steps.
Yolanda, who was seated beside her, saw him. She called out, “Pilar!”
The girl turned to look at where her friend was pointing. She saw Frank and grinned.
Then she looked back at the other girls and spoke to them, loudly. “Look amigas! He is the hombre who I made foqi with last night!”
The girls then whispered and giggled, while Frank looked around uneasily. He saw a Tourist Couple looking at him, with amused expressions. There was something familiar about the two. Frank knew he’d seen them before, but wasn’t sure who they were or where he’d seen them.
A woman standing a few steps to his left spoke with an American accent, “It’s okay guy!”
He looked at her. She was the blonde woman, who he’d seen at the arcade last evening, who the Gran Cacique Primiero had stopped to speak with, and who he’d later seen in the corridor of the hotel. Today she wore the short skirt, sandals, headband and peacock feather of the Sacrificial Maidens.
She told him, “There isn’t a senorita here, who didn’t give some hombre a lucky foqi last night.”
A gray haired Mexican woman standing to his right, wearing a full-length dress and leaning on a cane spoke. “Correcto. I did the same thing myself when I was a sacrificial maiden, every now and then. Most of us senoritas did.”
Frank asked the blonde woman, “You’re taking part?”
“That’s right.” She grinned. “I’m a member of the Daughters of Jephthah. We recruit young women to come here and take the risk. I occasionally come here to take it myself. ‘Helping to keep the world intact, along with all that is therein’.” She chuckled. “It’s also the most exciting thing that anyone could possibly do!”
“I see.” He said, “I’m a Presbyterian, who’s here for two weeks on vacation. I’m wondering. Have the Aztecs ever tried to keep the world intact, without human sacrifices?”
“Yeah. They tried it a few years ago. That was the year that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, and then the tsunami struck Indonesia and more than 100 thousand died. There was also a major increase in illegal drug use. Major terrorist attacks increased in number; and there were also major outbreaks of communicable diseases.
“After all that, believe me; all the Aztecs and we Daughters of Jephthah, got the message. If just one of us maidens had died as a sacrifice, all of those in Indonesia might have lived. Now the Sacrifices are back in full operation; and there have been major decreases in drug abuse, terrorism, and communicable diseases. I figure if my one death will help keep who knows how many thousands of others from dying due to all those natural and man made evils, it’ll be worth it.”
Pilar had come down from the stairway. She hurried over to Frank with a cheery look on her face, and was bouncing with excitement.
“Gracias for coming Frank.” She told him, “You are going to be very proud of me. If I am chosen for sacrifice, I am going to die very brave. I am not going to cry or whimper; and I am not going to scream until I feel the blade cut into me. Then I am only going to scream once.”
He just stood there looking at her, with no idea what to say.
The blonde woman spoke again. “That’s the way it is with us Sacrificial Maidens. We are pussies who aren’t wussies.”
All he could think of to say was “That’s becoming obvious.”
Now, back inside the crowd in the Plaza, the Mariachis’ music ceased. Then they played the Bullfight Fanfare.
Things immediately changed. Everyone who wouldn’t be taking part in the sacrifices hurried away from the Teochacali, going back across the street, into the Plaza.
Pilar spoke calmly, “It’s time for me to maybe die.” She shook Frank’s hand. “If I do, I hope you will have nice memories about me.”
Then she gave him a kiss on the cheek and headed back toward the girls on the stairway.
The girls on the stairway had jumped to their feet, when the fanfare sounded. The ones who’d sat with their legs dangling over the edge, also got up quickly, as did Juanita who’d sat on the Stone of Sacrifice. The guy she’d been flirting with hurried down the steps, across the street and into the crowd.
Frank now stepped out of the street, back into the Plaza. He didn’t go too far into the crowd, but stayed just a few steps away from the curb.
Now an open black limousine moved along the street. A man stood in the back of the vehicle. He wore a headdress of radiating peacock feathers, and was dressed from head to toe in garments with red, blue, yellow and green glyph patterns, all woven from the feathers of the quetzal bird.
Two other caciques rode in the back seat beside him, where they remained seated. They also wore sacred vestments, and radiating feather headdresses, though not as elaborate. One of them was Cacique Ramierez.
People in the crowd began chanting, “Viva! Viva! Viva El Cacique Primiero! Viva El Cacique Primiero! Viva El Cacique Primiero! Viva! Viva!”
When Frank had seen him the night before, the sight of this Supreme High Priest of the Aztecs hadn’t impressed him; but the way he was dressed this day, was something nobody would forget.
The limousine halted at the foot of the stairway, and El Cacique Primiero stepped out on the Teochacali’s side of the vehicle. Cacique Ramierez and the other lesser caciques also stepped out behind him, and remained in the background.
The Sacrificial Maidens had gathered on the stairway, into two vertical lines of six girls facing each other.
Now the Cacique Primiero began his ascent up the stairway. Back in the crowd, the Mariachi Band played a rendition of “The Grand March from Aida.” The girls clapped their cupped hands together, in time to the march, as did the entire crowd. The two lesser caciques remained at the bottom of the steps.
He finished his ascent and now stood on the platform, where the sacrifices were about to occur. He moved across the Sacred Space, and stood behind the Stone of Sacrifice. Then El Cacique Primiero turned to face the crowd in the Plaza Sacredo. The music ceased, and so did the girls’ clapping.
Both lines of maidens now moved toward each other, and came together at the middle of the stairway. They reformed themselves into a single line facing upward, toward the Chac Mool, the Stone of Sacrifice, the Sacred Disk and El Cacique Primiero. Pilar was the fourth girl back from the top of the line. The blonde Daughter of Jephthah stood behind her. Juanita and Yolanda stood at the bottom of the line.
Then El Cacique Primiero reached for his belt, drew out the sharp obsidian dagger, and held it up under the midday sun.
Everyone in the crowd and all the Sacrificial Maidens shouted. “Ole!”
The Mariachis again began to perform, beginning with the slow, heavy beat, followed by the melody of Ravel’s “Bolero”.
The line of maidens now began to ascend the center of the stairway, and stepped out onto the sacred space. They moved without hesitation in a straight line toward the stone of sacrifice. El Cacique Primiero stepped back. The girls encircled the stone in a counter-clockwise direction. Then they halted facing inward, their eyes fixed on the spot where one of them was about to die. El Cacique Primiero had placed the sacred obsidian dagger in the center of the stone, with the blade pointed outward toward the bowl on the Chac Mool’s stomach.
While the mariachis down in the Plaza continued performing “Bolero”, El Cacique Primiero called out, “Who among you Maidens, has been chosen, to be the one who chooses, the one among you Maidens, to be the one who is sacrificed?
Juanita raised her right hand and declared, “I am she, Cacique!”
He told her, “Begin!”
Juanita felt her heart pounding, as she reached over and placed the fingers of her right hand on the handle of the dagger. Pilar also felt her own heart pounding. Yolanda felt hers pounding as well, as did the blonde Daughter of Jephthah.
Juanita gave the dagger a quick snap of her hand, and the gleaming polished black stone dagger spun rapidly clockwise. Every maiden standing around the stone felt her own heart pounding, as she watched the weapon spin.
The blonde member of the Daughters of Jephthah thought, If I’m sacrificed it won’t hurt for very long. The pain’ll vanish in a moment. This dagger will be my key to Paradise.
The spinning dagger suddenly stopped, the blade pointed straight at Pilar. The girl gasped.
The blonde woman and the girl on Pilar’s right both grabbed her upper arms. Pilar angrily pushed them both away with her elbows hands and forearms.
“That is unnecessary!” She declared indignantly, “I am a pussy who is no wussy!”
Pilar reached over, picked up the dagger and handed it back to El Cacique Primiero.
Now one maiden came over and removed Pilar’s headband with the single peacock feather; replacing it with one having three feathers. She also removed Pilar’s plain flat belt. This she replaced with an elaborate, thick tubular belt, made of snakeskin, with a snake head, biting its rattling tale, as the buckle.
Then Pilar seated herself upon the Stone of Sacrifice, and lay down upon it stretching out lengthwise, with her arms above her head. Two maidens came over and each girl grabbed one of Pilar’s arms. The blonde woman and another maiden each grabbed one of her legs.
The seven other maidens, who weren’t holding her down, now moved to the rear of the platform, clearing the view of the Sacrifice, for everyone down in the Plaza Sacredo, including Frank Sandrell, to see was about to happen.
Then the chosen Sacrificial Maiden declared, “I am ready to enter El Paraiso now Cacique!”
The Cacique Primiero raised the dagger high.
El Cacique Primiero brought the dagger down quick, slashing Pilar open between her breasts. Then he reached into the wound, gripped her pounding heart tight, and ripped it out of her body.
Down in the Plaza, Frank stood watching the girl he’d done foqi with the night before, being slashed open. He was very distressed by the sight.
He watched El Cacique Primiero raising Pilar’s throbbing heart high beneath the midday sun.
The man cried out, “Senorita Pilar Hidalgo is sacrificed! All is right with the world!”
Everyone in the crowd, and all the Sacrificial Maidens shouted, “O-le!”
As he stood watching and listening, Frank thought, This isn't anything like worshipping in a Synagogue! This is Devil Worship! I shouldn't be here! I shouldn't be taking any part in this! I shouldn't have got involved with her in the first place!
Then he spoke without raising his voice, in English, hoping that no one standing nearby could understand him.
"Satan." He said, "In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to depart."
The gray haired woman in the full length dress and leaning on a cane looked at him, puzzled.
Atop the Teochacali, the man handed Pilar's throbbing heart to the blonde woman. She rose up reaching for it. At that moment, a bomb hidden inside Pilar's elaborate snake skin belt exploded.