Some catholic buildings stand out due to the architectonic feats they represent and the pictorial art they keep. It's apparent that they try to portray, perhaps within rough terrestrial limitations a celestial realm aimed to depict biblical descriptions if only with bricks, mortar, and stone. Tall walls and columns of gigantic proportions supporting cupolas populated by angels, saints, and virgins of pious faces are most likely created to illustrate with profusion a doctrine of eminent aesthetic dominance.
This particular structure enshrined to San José and belonging to the village of the hacienda, the subject of my stories is no exception. Its structure is typical of the cross-shaped naves with high, round domes dotted with windows and a wide range of paintings throughout walls and columns of stone and gypsum. Cool and quiet in its interior it's seemingly the perfect spot for longing local parishioners to parade at intervals during the day avid for peace or perhaps to see the object of their faith preserved therein.
On this visit, we found the cracked, antique bell had been removed to be replaced by a shiny and polished new one. Both bells rested at the time on the street floor on the side of the temple waiting for the new one to be hoisted and installed. The pair was visible from the back of the house that hosted us located right alongside the church. Its entrance facing the handsome bell tower, mute for the time being.
It was a sunny afternoon, clear and radiant when my traveling troupe decided to attend a party in the village. Rejected the idea of partying while secretly relishing in advance the solitude and abandon in which I planned to listen to “my “music without restrictions for the rest of the evening. It was around 4 and my Stix cassette blared from the recorder. It was a piece I had memorized by having listened to it daily:
Harmless and innocent you devil in white
You stole my will without a fight
You filled me with confidence, but you blinded my eyes
You tricked me with visions of Paradise
Now I realize I'm Snowblind…
Almost hummed it while being unable to stop admiring the pair of bells. I kept ogling them fleetingly from the back patio since they could be seen from where I was. I couldn't help but notice the oddity of having them on sight while being the only person in town who could see them at all. Despite being on the street they remained hidden between two stony low walls. I was in the middle of those reflections all peaceful and relaxed when something extraordinary and incredible happened.
Thought the cassette had broken down for it grew mute unexpectedly. Hurried to examine it believing the mechanism had gotten stuck, but inexplicably it kept on rotating freely. Stood by the device in complete confusion watching the reels spin in silence, when suddenly got startled by a most lugubrious and sad peal coming from the recorded track in the middle of the musical piece!
Stunned and frozen kept on observing in disbelief the cassette turning when after some moments there was a second peal equal to the first and then another and another to total seven! Thereafter, the music resumed until it reached the end. Feverish now, I did rewind the tape to the point where the bells had started and alarmed and incredulous found out that the peals had been recorded on the tape over the music track!
In disbelief kept on rewinding the tape time and again only to confirm ever with more certainty that a paranormal act had taken place in the middle of the afternoon: seven crystal-clear peals were indelibly recorded on the cassette without human intervention and overlapping my favorite track. Next, a barrage of runaway questions came up. Should I be scared? Was there a message I had to interpret? I didn't know the answer at the moment. Frustrated and in shock lamented that my cassette had been partially replaced and just waited for my peers to come back from the party to dine and sleep.
The first thing I did the next morning was to go out to closely inspect the now-famous bells. My Mind raced at 60 miles per minute in search of some hint or clue that tells me who and why had they messed with my music cassette and if those bells had anything to do with it for it was too much of a coincidence. After having admired their colossal size, their structural beauty, the heaviness of the bronze material, and pictured the danger and difficulty needed to hoist them up, decided to deepen my detective work by entering the temple through a lateral door straight to the sacristy.
Open-mouthed before the minimalist but sober beauty of the place, scrutinized the humble details of the chapel and the sacred elements like the baptismal font, some cinctures, and solemn priestly habits hanging from a coat rack. My sight, now adjusted to semi-darkness could perceive with the corner of an eye an obscure object contrasting with the white walls over the glowing floor on the farthest corner.
Curious, got closer, and saw with clarity it was a human skull, just like that. Couldn't find any reason for a skull to be in a church, and neither found one to keep me from taking it with me so I could do a favor to the priest in the bargain who perhaps was in the process of getting rid of such a macabre presence anyway. So, with no restrains moral or otherwise, I stashed it down my jacket planning to convert it into a lamp.
Most probably owed to inexperience, I opted for an act I thought contributed service to the padre by taking with me a carcass that on the other hand considered of use, certainly unaware of the consequences. At that point, my elation for its possession compensated the hardship we were having on this trip and the intrusive recording of funereal bells that came out of who knows where that had screwed my cassette for good. Without being deliberated, it was nevertheless a kind of revenge where I confronted and challenged the other world while waiting for any response that could explain once and for all what was the message that they were trying to reveal by ruining my favorite musical recorded track.
I hid that bony head in my luggage without my traveling party noticing it and a couple of days later was back in Mexico City in my normal activities. Took out the skull from its wrapping and proud and excited placed it on my night table picturing just how great it would look with a red candle stuck to the upper parietal, or maybe yellow? How about black? Couldn't believe in my good taste and eccentric creativity wishing for the night to approach and get to see mi lamp shine in the gloom in that old mansion in Colonia Roma.
Every night, reclined over my pillow I turned off the electric lights to stake out the somber eye sockets under the candlelight. I seriously was in the hopes of getting some signal from the unearthly or any hint that cleared some existential question or a transcendental message. That nightly contemplation of the skull became the search for a connection that could reveal the secrets of life and death.
But nothing. Nothing took place. Only after several months started to notice a change in my emotional state; no longer was it merriment caused by stupid mischief or the emotion felt by having a human carcass in my room, neither the sterile and ridicule searching of some connection with the otherworldly.
To my surprise, the scrutiny of the empty eye sockets on that skull transformed my festive foolishness into guilty compassion for the person it had been in life. While watching my colored candles, suddenly felt great shame and repugnance of myself for having to my solace a human head in frivolous bondage without the respect every human being deserves alive or dead. With sudden compassion, I had now the imperious need to know more about that person for no longer was fun to look at it while having it as a lamp, or a failed window to the stars. Now it was a person equal to me with whom I coexisted under the same roof. I knew I had to take it back to the chapel I had stolen it from as soon as possible.
So, I took it off my night table, diligently cleaned the paraffin accumulated over the superior parietal, and stashed it in a suitcase with the firm resolution of taking it back to the village of the hacienda the first chance I got. I wasn't afraid, but I think it would've been preferable to the shame and remorse felt after having run over or denigrated a human being regardless of its clinical status. From then on, every time my friends visited and asked for my skull, I kept saying it had had a Christian burial while they laughed and joked. Only I knew it was in the suitcase ready to be buried by the priest of San José.
Came the day to travel to the ranch and punctually took the head with me. Waited for the precise moment to stealthily cross the street and get into the sacristy carrying with me a duffel bag in a casual fashion. The church was empty and was able to put the skull exactly on the same spot it was when I found it. Silently, exited the church without being seen. At a table talk, started to inquire about the story of that skull abandoned in the temple's sacristy. I was told that a madman had come into town kicking it and that the padre had rescued it to give it, yes, a Christian burial. Meanwhile, he had put it in a corner at the sacristy on the floor knowing no one would touch it because the respectful locals are kind of superstitious and fearful of the supernatural, and especially, the dead.
Already back in Mexico City, a witch interpreted what had happened. She said the peals recorded on my cassette were a call to requiem mass a dead person was asking for whose head was in the sacristy across the street. The investigation that led me to analyze the bells on the floor closely and then enter the temple to pick up the skull was no other than to fulfill the occult designs of that rite like a puppet. I didn't do a mass of the dead but an equivalent indeed for it had had company during eight months, a candle was lit every night while resting on a wooden table and I stared at it fixedly waiting for a sound or a gesture until piety and shame got me back my common sense.
No one knew I stole the skull and the padre knew nobody in town would ever take it. It wasn't a horror story in the least. However, it intrigues me to imagine what the priest would have thought alone in that temple. Probably the facts forced him to make a profound reflection over the arcane mysteries of life and death after seeing a skull vanish and, eight months later see it reappear on the same spot and in the same position. I just trust his ample theological culture kept him from believing that forces from the otherworldly took the skull for a tour of the dead before having been buried.