Now Available: The Horns




It is the year 1625, in Cartagena, and nothing matters more to Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias than his honor.

When he discovers his wife has betrayed him with another, he kills her in a rage and receives a curse in return. The next morning he awakes to discover horns upon his head.

Strive though he might, he cannot rid himself of them. And so begins a journey to discover the person who can.

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In A Flash: The Conquistadors

“The world’s a simple place, once you understand it. People will talk of Our Lord—and they’re right to. Make no mistake, we are His chosen. They’ll talk of humility and kindness and justness. All the things they think we should be. But in the end, what matters is who can take what. Remember that. If you can take something—take it. Because rest assured, you’ll be a fool to think someone else won’t.”

The man speaking these words wore a finely tailored doublet, though a close inspection would reveal it was worn and faded, as were the rest of his clothes. His name was Don Luis Farajo, and he led his companion—a ladino youth named Juan—along a winding trail that passed through villages with names he did not know.

“Now that’s something your kind just don’t understand. Oh, you listen to all the priests have to tell you, I’ve no doubt. How else did you learn our tongue, after all? But you take it all on faith. You trust. Damned fools, the lot of you. Look at Atahualpa with Pizarro. He had no intention of keeping his word. None. Yet the whole empire was lost because an emperor did not understand the fundamental rule of the world. Takers always take. And always will. Mark my words.”

Juan did not answer Don Luis, his eyes on the trail ahead. It was early morning, the sun still climbing above the mountains which towered around them. They had started off before dawn from the inn they had spent the night in, passing men and women carrying goods for the day’s market down the steep paths they were climbing. It was exhausting work and Juan chewed coca leaves to ward off his appetite, though Don Luis scoffed at his habit, calling it uncivilized.

Don Luis had opinions on all matters, which he was never shy to share with anyone who happened to be at hand. Especially Juan, who he seemed to view as a child who he had a solemn duty to properly educate in the ways of the world. This despite the fact Juan could speak Spanish as well as any Peninsular, having been taught by the Dominican friars he served in Pisac. Of the two of them it was Juan who had the rudiments of his letters, though the ladino never dared mention that to Don Luis.

“See, now pay mind to these people,” Don Luis said, gesturing at the family that was making its way down the hill, their backs heavy with baskets filled with alpaca wool clothes. “They have not done a thing different than their fathers or their father’s fathers in all their lives. Wake up and walk down to the valley. Spend the day at market and then go back up. Now, you at least have started your education. Those friars taught you a thing or two.

“But so many men—even Spaniards, by God—can’t be bothered to do more than what their fathers did. And what do you think they accomplished? Nothing. No, I will not be like them. Not me. I’ve seen to that. Come across to this New World and these godforsaken villages. But we won’t be idling here long, will we Juan?”

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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In A Flash: Voyage’s End

A ship, alight upon the sea, surging upon the waves as it’s crew stands watch, eyes straining forward, alert to the horizon. This was the image that came to her mind as Ance whiled away the interminable hours in this desolate place. A ship coming to take her home.

She had long ago stopped counting the days, it had grown too depressing by far. No matter how many she marked off her calendar or in her diaries, the remainder still loomed ahead, the weight of them the same, as backbreaking as the work of the porters who carry her belongings up and down the mountains of this cruel and barbaric place. Her greatest fear was that her husband would arrive at one of their homes, on one of his occasional acknowledgments that they were in fact married, to announce that the Viceroy had extended his term and they would be remaining for another five years.

It was a thought beyond bearing. Every day she was surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom could not speak more than a civilized word or two to her. Their disdain was evident in every gesture they made, in every expression when they thought she was not paying attention. They were doing things to her food as well, she was certain. She always felt weak and ill, though perhaps that was just the abominable climate, so frigid and damp.

One day, as she spent another afternoon lost in pointless reverie, it came to her that it did no good to idly dream of such things, she needed to make chance bend to her will and act. Her husband spent most of his days pretending she did not exist, it could be easily done. She called her porters and had them gather her belongings and set off from her home in the misty highlands.

Read the rest at Circumambient Scenery.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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Now Available: The Masks of Honor

Masks of Honor

Luisa is always more than she appears. Rumor and mystery surround her. And strange events seem to follow wherever she goes.

Born in Lima, City of Kings, to a noble family, her father so fears her true nature that he banishes her to a convent. There she falls under the suspicion of the Inquisition and decides to flee.

How can a young woman hope to hide herself in colonial Peru, where honor is prized above all else? By adopting whatever masks respectability requires. It is only when someone is able to pierce the veil of her mask that the real danger begins.

In a world where she will always stand apart, Luisa embarks on an adventure, marked by betrayal and murder, terrible powers and mysterious strangers. The Masks of Honor is her incredible confession and a story like no other.

A novel by Clint Westgard
Available at AmazonKobo, and Smashwords

A Nefarious Rite

When I slipped out of my room it was deep in the night, well past second sleep, when not an honorable soul could be expected to be about in the world. I was at one with the shadows as I moved through Don Francisco’s hallways, going from room to room, verifying again that all were empty of inhabitants. As I inspected what were ostensibly the servants’ quarters more closely than I had the previous night, I was convinced that no soul ever lay their head upon those rough pillows. When I had satisfied myself that the house was empty, I turned to the grounds, scouring the stable where Don Francisco kept his horses, along with a few pigs and some cattle, finding no sign of anyone there either.

I returned to the house, convinced that I must have overlooked something there. A dozen Indians and a Castilian could not simply vanish into the air, even if the man was an alchemist, as he claimed. I retraced my earlier steps within, this time going slowly so that I could feel at the seams of the place, here at the floor, there at a fireplace, trying to find some secret passageway. None appeared, until I came to what appeared to be a newer addition to the house attached to the kitchens, which I had only glanced at on my earlier journey. At its far end, near where the entrance to the cellar was, there was an empty space, absent of purpose.

I went to it immediately, crouching down to run my hands along the floor, and was rewarded with the discovery of a trapdoor. I pulled it up and saw some wooden stairs descending into the inky blackness below. After checking to ensure that the door would not lock behind me, I went below. The darkness was near absolute, but I have always been at ease in the dark. When I came to the bottom of the stairs I could discern a pathway, carved from the earth and supported by timbers, as though it were the shaft of a mine. I half expected to be assaulted by the sound of pickaxes upon rocks and the searing stench of quicksilver, but the silence and the darkness held firm.

I started forward, the smell of damp earth heavy in my nostrils, unease tickling at the hairs on my neck. The farther I went the farther I was from my only avenue of escape, and the damper my palms and the drier my throat became. I walked for what seemed like hours, though in all likelihood it was only a few interminable minutes, the silence playing on my thoughts until my imagination had filled my head with any number of fearsome and terrible sights that I was certain were about to be revealed to me. The passage narrowed as I went until it came to a turn—somewhere near the edge of the professor’s land, I reasoned—and after I had made the turn a dim light flickered into view at the end of this new tunnel. I slowed my approach, being careful to make absolutely no sound as I went, though I could hear nothing from the room where the light was.

I crouched low as I came to the entrance and peered around the corner, my body pressed against the cold earth. Within I saw a cavern, ancient and wide, formed long ago by the vagaries of the earth. I paid little mind to this wonder, though, for a far stranger sight drew my attention: all the professor’s servants were arrayed in a circle upon the cavern floor, each of them with a vial attached to their arms. Studying them closely, I could see that these vials were being filled with blood dripping slowly from small punctures on the Indians’ wrists. At the center of this nefarious circle was a goblet that, I knew without looking, was filled with blood.

I hissed at the sight of it, recalling the terrible rites the Stranger had been carrying out in the tombs of Cuzco. What foul necromancy was taking place here? I turned my attention to the poor Indians whose blood was being stolen, shaking the nearest to me to see if they were asleep. He did not rouse, and no breath seemed to pass from his lips. Had they somehow passed from the realm of the living and now inhabited some purgatory in this place? I was so engrossed in my study of the Indians, my own horror rising like bile in my throat, that I did not notice the shadows begin to move until it was too late. A firm blow struck my head and I fell to the ground and was lost to oblivion.

When I awoke, the light in the cavern had gone out and the Indians had risen, only the goblet remaining at the center of the circle. I was at the far end of the cave, my wrists and ankles chained to some ancient stone lodged in the earth. I had no idea how long I had been unconscious, but I suspected it had been some time and that morning would be near. Would Diego be joining me soon, I wondered? As if in answer to my thought, he appeared, led by Don Francisco. I called to him but he gave no sign that he heard me, his face blank of thought and expression.

A chill went down my spine at this sight, and my horror only grew as Don Francisco led the boy to where his Indians had so recently lain having their life force drained from them. He drew a thin knife from his belt that I could see was ornamented with oddly shaped runes, along with one of those fiendish vials of his. That he tied to Diego’s wrist, muttering some phrases in Latin, the knife poised in his hand. He pierced the boy on each wrist, one draining into the vial, the other left to open to feed the earth.

Diego, you are not his, I called to him. You must resist him.

Don Francisco laughed at my words. He is yours no longer, he said to me, leaving the boy and walking over to me, a malicious look in his eyes. Soon enough he will be mine, as docile as all the sheep in my flock.

I spat on the ground at his feet, cursing his name. What of me, I said. Do you expect me to be transmuted into one of your automata?

No, he said. Your kind does not respond well to my treatments. I have other plans for you.

What are your plans for the boy and these others, I asked, my fury growing by the instant. Are they to be drained until they are husks. I thought you were educating them and turning them into Christians.

Indeed I am, the professor insisted. Christians and good subjects. They are obedient and observant, not the slothful and ignorant sort like your boy here. He will learn his place in time.

Christians? I laughed at him. What claim do you have to our true faith? What foul rite are you practicing here?

Don Francisco looked at me scornfully. I am a philosopher and learned man and I will not have someone of your kind saying that I am not a Christian or a man. What you see here is no black rite, no foul magick, but a philosophic investigation into the most important alchemical secrets of our age. What I am collecting here is the divine quintessence of this land. This is the secret Magnus told Aquinas upon his deathbed, the secret to eternity itself.

As for you, he continued, stroking his chin with his fingers, a dear friend has requested that I keep you here. He is most eager to reacquaint himself with you.

My heart went still at his words and I felt myself begin to tremble. Though I tried to master my emotions they must have shown upon my face, for Don Francisco chuckled at my reaction.

Yes, I thought you would remember my friend. You are in his debt, as I understand it. You should know that he only accepts payment in blood.

I should not be surprised you would be in league with that devil, I cried, anger surging to overwhelm my fear. Do you do this work for him? He has worked his black magick on you as well.

Don Francisco scoffed at my rage. Don’t be a fool, he said. He is one of the great minds of this new world. A philosopher of existence to rival Magnus. It was he who taught me the secrets of the philosopher’s stone. But enough chatter, young Diego’s vial is full and I have much to teach him.

He turned his attention to the boy, untying the vial and emptying it in the cup, which was now full almost to the brim. He fingered it tenderly, as though it were the holiest of grails, and then pulled Diego to his feet and began to lead him away. He paused before he left the cavern, as though a thought had just occurred to him, and turned to say to me:

Tell me, then, I am given to understand from my friend that you can survive for quite some time without food or drink. We shall see, at any rate.

His laughter, grim and cold, echoed down the halls of the passage long after he had disappeared from sight. I was unable to stop myself from snarling and cursing like a rabid dog at him, but as soon as the sound of his mocking had vanished from the air I started to weep, for the Stranger was now on his way from Cuzco, and with him came my doom.

from The Maleficio Chronicles

An Attempted Escape

At last the sight of the Stranger watching me from the shadows, his eyes telling me that my dreams of the horrors he would visit upon my person would in time become all too real, was too much. I had to escape San Sebastián and Cuzco and fly as far away as possible, so I set about to craft a plan. Normally I would have used the night to shelter my escape, but the aid it offered me was negated entirely by the presence of the Stranger and his terrible powers. That he had managed to survive our earlier confrontation told me that he was not a man in any sense that you or I would use, but rather a devil incarnate with all the magic that a demon might have upon this earth. I could not hope to defeat him, and certainly I could not evade him along with all the others who maintained the siege. Instead I determined to flee during the day, though it offered me little protection. But the Stranger was not present among the watchers, as near as I could tell, during the daylight hours so, by necessity, it offered my best chance. But how to slip by the guard without attracting notice when I did not have darkness and obscurity as my ally?

I turned instead to my allies of blood and flesh within Cuzco, those friends who I knew I could trust and would not turn from me, no matter the threats and blandishments Don Lope and the Alcalde might offer. Here Diego was invaluable, for I sent him to my friend Don Mariano and a few others to ask for their aid and to explain what I had in mind. They in turn brought word to others they trusted and, when all was prepared, sent word through Diego to that effect. Here I acted quickly, for I suspected that Don Lope had his men following Diego and I needed to set things in motion before they realized what was afoot.

I chose the following Sunday, for the church would be at it’s busiest that day and the crowd would offer me greater cover. Don Mariano had sent me a new suit through Diego, which I wore in the hopes of providing a moment’s distraction from the watch, who had no doubt grown used to the usual frock which I had been forced to wear for the two months I had been under their gaze. As the church filled with parishioners and mass began I hid myself amongst them, my hat pulled low. I spied a few of Don Lope’s men among the worshipers and saw, to my delight, that they were scanning those gathered for a sign of me, knowing that I normally took mass at this time.

At the conclusion of mass the crowd began to let out into the street where the watch was kept and I put plan into action. Don Mariano had engaged two harlots to create a disturbance to draw the attention of the crowd. One of them, a lovely morenasa named Teresa, had spent the morning on the streets around the church selling candies, while the other, a mestiza named Geronima, arranged to pass by Teresa as she was selling her wares to those let out from the service. Teresa feigned to notice Geronima in turn and immediately confronted her, calling her a whore and all manner of things. Geronima responded in kind and they fell upon each other, scratching at each others faces and pulling their hair, creating a tremendous racket.

This had the desired effect, for the crowd exiting the church was drawn towards spectacle. The result was that the street was filled with a milling group of people, trying to make room for the two combatants, mingling with those keeping watch against me. The guards could not resist turning to watch what was happening as well, for most of them were now two months into the siege and they had long since grown bored with their uneventful duty. In the midst of the crowd, having attended mass, was one Pablo Vallojil, an Indian from Guamanga, and a servant of Don Mariano’s. He was the ostensible cause of the battle between the two women and when he had announced his presence to the assembled they both turned and set upon him as one.

Pablo drew his sword, saying that he would see an end to them both for so dishonoring him before the home of Our Lord. There was great deal of nonsense said back and forth between he and the ladies, with members of the crowd joining in and choosing their side of the dispute. Pablo declared he would suffer these harlots’ insults no more and took after them, brandishing his sword. They both fled, towards the Alcalde’s watch, and these honorable men responded by raising their swords against Pablo. A flurry of threats were uttered back and forth as Pablo demanded to be given the satisfaction of punishing these recalcitrant women, while the Alcalde’s men dismissed him as an Indian who had passed beyond all reason and sense.

It was then that Don Mariano and two of his friends happened upon the scene and came to Pablo’s aid, demanding the arrest of Teresa and Geronima. The Alcalde’s men refused, saying that by rights Pablo and Don Mariano should be arrested. Further insults were traded and soon everyone’s swords were drawn and a melee resulted that sent the still gathered crowd into a seething turmoil, as those nearest to the fight tried to get clear of the blades, while those at the back tried to get nearer to better see what was taking place.

I was in the midst of all this, having exited the church with the crowd at the end of mass. As the incidents had developed I had stayed towards the back of the gathering, nearer the church, but when the fight between the guards and Don Mariano broke out I seized my chance and began to slip through the crowd, hoping of course to make a break while the Alcalde’s men were otherwise preoccupied. I kept my head low and had my cloak drawn up high over my shoulders, so that between it and my hat little of face was shown. Moving at an angle away from the fight, but staying within the assemblage I went, neither slowly nor quickly, being careful not meet anyone’s gaze, until the crowd began to dissipate and I could see the open streets before me. Though every fiber of my being demanded that I flee then and there, I kept my wits and walked steadily on, a man about his business..

Just as I thought myself free a hand seized my shoulder and spun me about, nearly yanking my arm free from my torso and I found myself face to face with Don Lope himself. I gave a shout and he snarled at me: You are the devil himself.

From the City of the Vanished

An Encounter With A Stranger

My luck did not hold for it never does.

On one such occasion ten of us gathered, with four or five always at a table in our cards, while the rest mingled about talking and drinking. Aside from myself and the generous Don Antonio, there was the treasurer Lope de Alcedo and several friends of his, including one strange looking fellow I had never set eyes upon before. He was dark haired and dark skinned but with the most piercing blue eyes I have ever seen. I sat at the table most of the night, as was my habit, and acquitted myself well, accumulating a generous pile of reales. Several times, especially as I began to take the treasurer’s coin, I caught the stranger gazing at me from the corner of the room when he thought my eyes were on my cards.

I wondered at his interest and, deciding that it could hardly be friendly, I made a great show of getting full in my drink, talking loudly and unsteadily, all the while keeping a careful eye on the man. Fortune stood by me that night and I kept up my winning ways, which led to much dark muttering by Don Lope and the others at the table. This kept on for some time, as we played deep into the night, the others cursing me and their ill luck, the hours growing heavy on everyone’s faces.

My mood, which had been as bright as my fellow players’ had been foul, turned ugly when, after losing a hand, I reached into my purse to pay into the pot and found it lighter than it had been. Though I had no proof, beyond my own native instinct, I immediately turned and locked eyes with the blue eyed stranger. He returned my gaze, the smallest of grins touching his lips. I marveled at his ability to steal up beside me and take the coin right before my eyes where it sat on the table. Had the others noticed? Unlikely, they were all too consumed with me and their own gloom with the play going against them.

I had no sense of when or how he might have pulled his trick. As I have mentioned to you before, all my senses are very keen and on this night, though I had been acting quite the drunkard, I had taken only a cup or two of drink. And yet he had slipped past my guard, stealing right from under my eyes, without my even noticing.

I vowed then, as I paid out my debts and settled into the next hand, that I would not allow him to succeed in his game again. I slipped my dagger out from my belt and kept it in my lap, my left hand clenched around it, within easy reach of my purse on the table before me. And there I kept my eyes, even as I played on through the next hands, never glancing again towards the newcomer, though I knew he was watching me like a falcon studying its prey from afar. I know only too well the charlatan tricks that can be played, the deception of appearances, where one is there and then not there. No fool am I, I recognized a fellow traveler.

When he came next to lighten my purse I was well prepared for him. As he reached out, making a show of passing by the table, I brought my dagger down upon his hand, the blade gouging right through his flesh and lodging itself in the table trapping the stranger there. He let out a yell that quietened the room and I leapt up from chair, snatching my purse from the table, calling him a devil and a thief.

My strategy was poorly thought out though, for he was a friend of Don Lope, the treasurer, as were most of those there that night. My only friend in the place was our host Don Antonio and he did not dare risk his friendship with the treasurer over someone as inconsequential as me, a decision I cannot blame him for. He did step forward and plead for peace, to no effect, as Don Lope and his friends drew their rapiers against me.

I drew my blade as well, thinking only of how I might engineer an escape with my vitals intact. Before the mob could come at me I brought my rapier down upon the stranger’s still-trapped hand taking off two of his fingers. He snarled at me, more like a beast than a man in that moment, and then pulled my dagger free and came at with the rest of them. Though I parried furiously I was unable to stop them from raking me with their blades. I managed to fend them off only enough to allow me to exit the house, little good it did me, for I was still menaced at all sides by Lope de Alcedo and his companions.

Leave his guts on the street, Don Lope said to his friends, his voice heavy with drink.

I shall still have more stones than the lot of you, I told him with a sneer. You are as unpaved as any village.

This caused a general uproar among the half dozen or so men brandishing their weapons in the darkness. They were advancing upon me when Don Antonio, Lord bless him, came round the corner with the Alcalde of the city, who he had roused from his bed at that late hour. That man called a halt to the proceedings and had me arrested, calling on all the others gathered to follow him to give their statements as to what had occurred.

Strangely, the newcomer with the blue eyes was nowhere to be seen among those who trailed behind me and the Alcalde, cursing and muttering at their poor luck in being unable to finish their task. I, of course, was infinitely grateful that they had failed in that, but something else was troubling me. I was certain that the stranger had come out with the rest of the mob in pursuit of me as I had made my feeble retreat, but at some point in between the ensuing scrum and the arrival of the Alcalde he had vanished. If his fellows had noticed they made no comment on it, either among themselves or to the Alcalde. Where then had the man gone, and to what end?

I had plenty of time to dwell on that, for I was thrown into jail, clapped with irons, and set in the stock. I passed a cold and miserable night, bleakly pondering the terrible state I now found myself in. The next day the sun rose and with it came my friend Don Antonio, as true a gentleman as one could wish for, and my master Don Tadeo, who spoke with the Alcalde, a man he knew, and had me let out of the stocks and irons. The Alcalde would not free me, though, for the witnesses had all sworn statements against me.

Surprisingly, no mention was made of the stranger, the harm that had come to him, or the theft which had precipitated all the events. It was as though he had never been present. I protested to the Alcalde that I wished to press charges against this man, but he waved me away. Neither Don Antonio nor I knew the man’s name and the Alcalde had not seen him when he’d come upon the scene, so for all intents and purposes he did not exist. The charges against me had nothing to do with the stranger. It seems that in the scuffle that had broken out I had, while making my frantic defense, landed a blow on the face of one Mendo de Quinones, which required some seven stitches.

As they were unable to secure my release, in spite of their many and considered pleas to the Alcalde, both Don Tadeo and Don Antonio left me to my fate in the jail, promising to return with what help they could muster. In spite of their cheerful bravado at our parting, I knew my situation was bleak. Neither of my friends had the standing that Lope de Alcedo did in Cuzco and that, combined with the fact that all the witnesses spoke against me, meant I was almost certain to be facing a penalty, no doubt a few years with the army in Chile battling the savages that roam there.

So began my first spell of imprisonment, though it would not be my last. At the time, the specter of unending days lying before me, filled with poor food and miserable conditions, as the case ran through its gauntlet of appeals, left me in a state of dread and despair. Those nights did not pass easily. Neither do these nights before me now, though I have had ample time to grow accustomed to them.

from The Accursed Necropolis

Under the Shadows

I hardly know where to begin in a task such as this. I have not written much since my youth in the convent, although then I flattered myself with thinking I was quite skilled at the practice. There was some writing when I was in the employ of Don Tadeo, but it was not of this kind. I have never been interested in stories—beginnings and middles—one has to arrive at an end from which to gain a vantage point to scan the whole proceedings. I am not the kind to look back or dwell on past moments and their significance.  That sort of thing is always changing anyway; the morning has a different hue come evening.

So it is a foreign thing I am doing here, and I beg your forgiveness should the telling go poorly. But you have insisted and I shall comply. I owe you that much anyway. Owe you that and so much more, but these inadequate phrases shall have to suffice. Perhaps you can understand something of this burden that shadows my every step.

I was born into a family of some standing in the year of Our Lord 1585 in Lima whose name I will not mention, for their honor will have suffered enough from my various transgressions. We had a large estate in one of the finer neighborhoods of that fair city, surrounded by towering walls that sheltered us from any prying eyes. Those walls delineated the universe of my childhood, for I rarely left the estate and my only time out of doors was spent in the crafted and manicured gardens of the grounds.

My childhood was one of shadow and darkness. The sunlight gave my mother severe headaches and she spent most her days in bed. The windows in her wing of the estate had to be shuttered and covered with blinds in case she should happen to emerge, leaving most of the house off-limits to her. I was her only child and, with no real friends or companions among the rest of the household, I spent most of my days near her quarters in the, often vain, hope that she would be well enough to invite me into her chambers. There I would listen as she recounted tales of our family’s remarkable history.

My father I remember as a distant, pained figure who rarely strayed to my mother’s rooms. I cannot recall more than three words that he said to me directly. My very presence seemed to wound him. He had two other daughters, both older than I, who the servants and my cousins doted on. Me they avoided, whispering to each other when I would pass them in the hall.

One of my clearest memories of that time is of a conversation I managed to overhear in my father’s quarters. I cannot call to mind how I came to be there, hidden in the cove beneath his writing desk and behind the desk’s chair – no doubt I was in the midst of some childish game, for I was no more than ten – but there I was as two of the house servants stole an embrace and then shared a confidence.

That woman is a seductress. She has used sorcery on the Don. This from the woman, a scullery girl and a mulata, who should not have been in my father’s quarters, though the same could have been said of me.

Yes she has clearly done evil to him with her spells. This was one of my father’s servants, an Indian boy.

And that child is of the same kind. Those words have never left me; they come to my thoughts unbidden, in those moments when I am unguarded from drink or despair. That was the first I became aware I was different from others in some fundamental way and that this was the reason for the unkindness, the whispers and the evil glares. How they feared me! Their hatred gave me strength which still carries me through my days, even as my steps have grown heavier with each year.

Mother was never long for this world, so it seemed to me. I have been told she was once one of Lima’s most beautiful women, but she had faded from that glory by the time I can remember her. Her skin was always a spectral shade, her breathing labored and her eyes unfocused. In her last year of life she was rarely coherent, subsiding often into a fever-like state where she would rave about those in San Sebastién, who had conspired against her and condemned her to this exile. She told me, in one of her final lucid moments before she succumbed to the pox that swept through Lima that winter, how sorry she was that she would not have more time with me. Though I was young I understood what her meaning was.

There was so much I was going to teach you, she told me. So much you needed to learn. The world will be difficult for you. It was for me. That is our lot. I only hope you do more than I have with what you have been given.

I do not know if I have succeeded in this regard. My life has been a series of wrong turns, each leading me farther astray. Who knows what the future offers, though I fear you will have more to say in that regard than I. Perhaps that is for the best, given all I have done.

I fear my thoughts have overwhelmed me, this pen, so burdensome; it has dragged my spirit down to a step before damnation. What a punishment you have devised for me! You would say it is no such thing, that it is for my and your edification. I have not thought of these times in many years. They were not kind to me, though few times have been, as you shall see. Onward.

Following my mother’s death I was sent to pass the remainder of my days in Convent of La Encarnación. I was eleven or twelve perhaps and my father had long determined that I was not suitable material for marriage. His family name was at stake. I would have been sent to a monastery earlier, I am certain, had my mother not opposed it. I was her only true companion in those last years. With her gone there was nothing left for me in that home and there had been so little happiness, even when she was alive, that I went to the convent gladly. Our family was important enough that my dowry was easily paid for and I was ensconced as a novice in its enclosure…

From Maleficio in the Cloister by Clint Westgard

Forthcoming March, 2013