Paquita felt the sharp twisting pain in her abdomen and leaned forward on the steering to move into a more comfortable position. She glanced in the rearview mirror catching her baby sister, Sylvia, gazing back. Sylvia’s brow rose, silently inquiring an update.
“I’m fine,” Paquita mumbled, rubbing her side. Her curly, light-brown hair stuck to the sides of her cheeks, pasted with humidity. She wiped the strands away and returned her palm to the site of the pain. Heavy rains drummed fiercely against the metal frame of the van. In the back, all the equipment rattled, threatening to come unfastened. Paquita cringed to think of a possible repeat of the night they were in Chicago. The accordion case collided with an amp and set them back financially for a while.
“Maybe you should pull over, güera?” Sylvia suggested. Paquita leaned onto the headrest and shook her head. Her sister smacked her lips in annoyance, and she swung her tight braids over her shoulders. “We’re still a long way from Torreón. You sure?”
“Ya, if she wants to suck it up, then let her suck it up,” their brother Juan snapped, moving his feet off the dashboard. His T-shirt hung loosely on his medium-built frame, but whenever they performed, he made sure to dress to the nines.
“Juan, shut up,” Joanna shouted, swatting him in the arm. “The least you could do is offer to drive the rest of the way to Tio’s house so Paquita can rest.” Paquita rolled her eyes at the twins. Either they are as thick as thieves or sworn enemies. There is no in between.
She clicked on the radio before the twins could erupt into another heated verbal brawl. The crackling of static from the FM stations blared out heavy tuba sounds, and the rain got lost in the rhythm.
Paquita narrowed her eyes at the upcoming reflective sign on the side of the road. It read that they were not much farther from Parral, her mother’s hometown. Her heart fluttered. It felt like ages since they had last stepped foot there. Juan leaned forward, gazing at the same sign.
“Ay madre,” he breathed. Juan made the sign of the cross on his body and kissed his fist before aiming his finger to the sky. The song on the radio switched to an old familiar tune. The accordion’s melody echoed into their van, and their faces lit up.
“Mom knows we’ve arrived,” Joanna cheered from the back.
“Y quien somos?” their mother’s voice shouted from the speakers.
“Los Espantos de Parral,” everyone in the van shouted back. Paquita’s eyes glazed over, and she envisioned her mother, Rosalinda Ramirez. Her mother’s signature long black hair shined like a prism of colors under stadium lights. Her famous backless, blue sequin gown, worn at the last concert, had been replicated so many times but never compared to the original. It was the last smiling image of Rosalinda that everyone printed on T-shirts and memorial posters. The music topped the charts despite the killing of her mother all those years ago.
A lone gun man came onto a talk show where Los Espantos de Parral were the musical guests. In front of a live studio audience, Rosalinda belted out their latest song. She received the excitement of the crowd with wide arms. The shot rang out, and Rosalinda fell onto her knees, blood streaming from between her fingers. Footage of the killing made rounds on YouTube yearly on the anniversary date. Juan had seen the video once and once only.
Paquita felt pain turning inside her stomach. Her nose scrunched, and she let out a slow breath. Touring this year was brutal, but the album was starting to gain hype on all streaming platforms. Hopefully, next year, they could afford a real tour bus with warm beds and someone else to man the wheel.
“Descanse en paz, Rosalinda Ramirez,” the DJ shouted into his microphone before the song finished.
“Rest in Peace, indeed,” Juan muttered, leaning his head against the cold glass. His breath fogged up his view of the darkness around them. The van turned off the highway and settled into the halo-like glow of a gas station.
“We better fill up now. That way we can just take off first thing in the morning,” Paquita muttered, mostly to herself. Joanna groaned as she slipped her jacket on. The harsh tungsten lights above made the siblings squint. The rain had slowed its flow, but the ankle-deep water was soaking up Paquita’s jeans. She hurried to finish fueling, constantly looking over her shoulder. Although the town was old, it was making news for its recent spikes in crimes.
Juan peeled his back off the logo on the side of the van just as a faded blue truck pulled up beside them.
“No manches!” shouted the driver as he climbed out. The siblings froze, eyeing him carefully. Another man stepped down from the passenger’s side, and both made their way over. Paquita silently slipped her hand into her back pocket, where she kept her pocketknife ready.
The man put on his baseball cap and slapped his friend in the chest. “Do you know who they are? Principes de Parral! We’re big fans of your guys’ music! And your mom is a legend!”
“Hey man, thanks,” Juan smirked, crossing his arms.
“It’s an honor to have someone come up from here and make it big. Can we get your autograph?” the other man said, pulling out a scrap of paper from his back pocket. Paquita gracefully took a pen from the other man. She scribbled her name quickly to make a perfected variation of her mother’s signature.
“Just curious, how come you guys aren’t opening for your tio on his tour? Like he’s huge right now?” one of the men asked. Joanna quickly turned her head around to hide her scowl. Paquita nudged her swiftly in the side before flashing a smile to the men.
“We’re proud of my Tio Lucian’s music career, but we want to make a name for ourselves on our own. We appreciate the fan’s support in keeping my mother’s legacy alive. Especially here in Parral.” Paquita’s rehearsed line stung each time she answered that question.
After her mother’s death, all the debts and mismanagement came to light. Lucian Ramirez had overtaken the rights to their band’s songs, and it fueled the beginning of his successful solo career. He offered not one dime of help to the siblings after their mother’s funeral. The sibling’s father had struggled to keep them afloat and killed himself five years ago. They had no choice but to try and take their own stab at the industry from scratch.
“No pos, that’s great. It was nice to meet you guys. Will you be playing at that festival in Torreón?” the driver asked.
“Yeah, we’ll be there. Catch us there,” Sylvia smiled, already climbing into the van.
“Gracias! Have a good night!” the men called as they returned to the blue truck. As soon as they faded into the surrounding night, Paquita let her shoulders drop.
“If I hear one more person bring him up,” Joanna began.
“You’re probably going to get asked about it until the day you die,” Juan shouted. “Get used to it.”
“Enough,” Paquita snapped. “Let’s get moving. Hopefully, Tio Francisco is still awake.”
Paquita leaned against the entryway of the thick adobe house. The land had been in the family since the early 1800s when her ancestors dared to journey across the Atlantic. Deep purple galaxy swirls and twinkling specks above reminded her of the magic in this part of the country. She imagined that this was what her mother did every night while dreaming of becoming a musician. Dark clouds were rolling in fast, threatening to bring in more heavy rains, and Paquita knew flash floods in the area were no joke.
Juan dropped the accordion case in front of her and shook his head at his big sister.
“Are you going to sit on your ass or help move the equipment?” he grumbled. Paquita rolled her eyes at him and went to bring the last of their bags inside.
“Niños,” Tio Francisco called from inside the house. He staggered out, snapping open a can of beer. Thick hot subs gurgled out the opening. “I got the generator running. We can watch some news together before you knock out for the night.” His slurred speech made Joanna scrunch her nose in disgust. Paquita made a mental note to leave money in the morning, so he’d have some electricity for the month.
They sat down on the couch, huddling together for warmth. The thunder above roared, and the deep vibrations rattled the house lightly.
“I call dibs on Tio Lucian’s room,” Juan sang as he walked in with a bundle of heavy zarapes. Joanna snatched one from him while rolling her eyes.
“Ay, come on, that’s not fair! That’s the only room the ghosts aren’t in,” she whined.
“Don’t start,” Paquita hissed, marching into the kitchen. She turned the knobs of the stove to check if the gas was running. She narrowed her eyes at the discoloration of the walls. Obvious signs that mice had been scurrying about made her stomach drop. There was a faint mildew smell seeping in from all around. She wondered if her abuelita was rolling in her grave about the state of the house.
When her mother started to earn decent money, she had planned on renovating the place and buying back land that had been sold off in desperate times. But all that remained was the ghost of what had once been the grand rancho.
“If the ghosts come to your room at night, just show them your face, and they’ll run out of here,” Juan teased. Joanna shoved her hands into his chest and made him stagger back onto the couch.
“Cut it out,” Sylvia shouted, looking over her shoulder. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Oh yeah, then why is it Los Espantos de Parral? You think Mom, Tio Frankie, and Tio Lucian pulled the name out of their ass because it sounded cool?” Joanna sneered. “They all saw weird shit growing up. You know which story scared the shit out of me when we were little?” Paquita leaned out of the kitchen and crossed her arms.
“If you say la bruja, I’ll scream,” Juan laughed. “That shit freaked me out too.” Paquita shifted uncomfortably in place. She hated when her family talked of ghosts and monsters in the house. She flinched and hurried to sit between Joanna and Sylvia.
Tio Francisco lugged in an old television from the hall and placed it crookedly onto the coffee table. Juan stood up from the couch to help plug everything in. The dial clicked, and an image appeared slowly on the dusty screen.
“Quien somos?” their mother’s voice called out over the screams of the audience. The grainy video made Paquita’s heart clench. Rosalinda smoothed out the front of her navy-blue dress and raised her microphone to the audience.
“Los Espantos de Parral,” the siblings shouted in unison with the audio. Tio Francisco scratched the top of his temple and let out a long, sad sigh. In the video, he was thinner, with long curly black hair, bouncing to the beat while puffing into his tuba. He lovingly blew a kiss towards Rosalinda. She gave her famous bow and then sang “Los Escorpiones de Mi Mente.”
Tio Francisco bent down and clicked the eject button on the bottom of the television, causing a VHS tape to slip out the bottom. The screen scrambled to a local station. Paquita’s eyes narrowed as Tio Lucian’s face appeared.
“Traicionero!” Tio Francisco shouted, making Sylvia flinch. Tio Lucian was belting out his latest hit on a soundstage. The host of the show stood off to the side, holding onto a microphone and a copy of the album. Tio Francisco scoffed and stormed down the hallway.
“Lucian Ramirez has had a breathtaking ascension into superstardom,” a narrator spoke over the B reel of Tio Lucian signing autographs outside a venue. “Tonight, fans are gathered outside of a hospital in Mexico City to hold a candlelight vigil. Ramirez was injured yesterday at a concert when he fell off a platform due to mischarge of pyrotechnics. The singer fell into the orchestra pit and was impaled by a disassembled stand.”
“Ha! Culero! That’s what he gets. I hope they cancel the rest of the tour,” Joanna snickered, nudging Sylvia in the ribs.
“Turn that off. We’ve got to wake up early to get back on the road,” Paquita huffed as she wandered down the hall. “Joanna, if you want, you can share Mom’s bed with me.” Joanna nodded and followed closely behind. Paquita let out a small yelp as she sank back onto one side of the bed.
“Maybe it’s your appendix about to erupt,” snickered Joanna as she folded her arms over her eyes. “Knowing our bad luck, we’ll probably have to take you to a doctor.” Paquita scoffed and settled down onto the pillow. The soft scent of dust made her nose twitch.
Outside, the rain increased its flow, and she wondered how those who lived by the river were doing. Her thoughts drifted in and out as an anxious feeling rose.
A clasp of thunder roared overhead, making Paquita sit upright in the bed. The disorienting feeling of losing time overtook her. She didn’t recall falling asleep. Joanna shifted beside her, taking more of the blankets. Paquita wiped her nose with the back of her hand and began to sink back into the pillow. The swaying curtains gave her pause.
The steady rhythmic beeps of the hospital machines kept Lucian awake. The nurse forgot to shut off the lights again, and the small television mounted to the wall added to the torturous brightness. He scrunched his eyes shut, trying his best to create darkness. His body stung from the deep gash that wove across his back and the soft side of his belly.
His shoulder shattered from the fall, and he had surgery last night to have screws put in to support the healing. Lucian shook his head as the blood pressure cuff tightened, pinching the thick needle-like arm hairs. He reopened his eyes and flinched, seeing that his nephews and nieces were on the news.
“Your mother worked closely with producer T.M. Quiñonez with Los Espantos de Parral, and now he will be collaborating with you on your next studio album. How do you think she would feel right now if she were here?” the host, Camilla Vargas asked the group. Their outfits glistened in the harsh studio lights, making the navy-blue fabric shimmer.
The microphone was passed to Paquita. “She’d be proud and hopefully see how we strive to honor the legacy she and my tios began for us.” The audience clapped as Paquita passed the microphone to Juan.
Lucian scoffed and turned his head away as his nephews and nieces began playing a song. He snuck a glance back at the television. Paquita was looking more and more like her mother. The host of the program pointed to a screen. On one side was Rosalinda, and the other was Paquita to highlight their features. He made a mental note to call his lawyer in the morning to see if they could prevent the unlicensed use of Rosalinda’s face with Paquita’s.
He furrowed his brows at the screen. He never anticipated that they’d get this far in the business. All his sacrifices and dealings he made were to make sure he’d be the only one coming out on top.
Everyone would gather in his mother’s house when they weren’t on tour. He sat in his father’s old armchair as his nephews and nieces were gathered around him, eagerly listening to stories. Roberto Ramirez died in a mining accident when they were younger. No one dared sit in his seat except for Lucian, who had assumed the head of the household.
“They say, on the side of the mountain, you can find the devil,” he’d always start. He’d pause for dramatic effect and take a sip of his Presidente beer. “He lights a fire and waits. If your eyes lock with the fame, it will call your name.”
“How do you know that, tio?” Paquita asked, clutching onto a plush doll.
“Lucian,” Rosalinda scolded, peering out from the kitchen. “No empiezas. They’ll be up all night. Brujeria is not to be talked about in this house.”
“Who’s talking about La Bruja? No one brought her up. That’s way worse than the devil calling your name. She scared all of us that time she came.” The children’s eyes widened, and they leaned in closer to him. Rosalinda rolled her eyes and went back to help in the kitchen.
“La Bruja?” Sylvia squeaked. Lucian looked over his shoulders to make sure no one would interrupt him.
“The devil isn’t the worst thing that you can run into. We were little chamacos like you guys that night she came to the house.” He put his beer down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Her long black hair covered her face, and she had a white gown, dirty with black marks and mold. She woke up your mother first by putting her long nails on the glass.”
Lucian held up his fingers in a claw-like shape. “She scratched, and it made your mother run out of the room, crying. I went to see who was out there.” Paquita shifted uncomfortably.
“I saw her lips. They were moving, but we couldn’t hear anything she said.”
“And then what happened?” Juan asked, holding onto Joanna.
“Your abuelita ran up and down the house holding her rosary and screamed the ‘Ave Maria.’ The witch flew up the mountains, and nobody saw her again. Still, whenever it rains, your abuelita covers up the windows in case she comes back.” Thunder sounded off in the distance, and the siblings jumped with nerves.
Lucian smiled and thought lovingly of the beauty within those mountains.
The fire. It called him out one night, and he answered willingly. How he wished he had heard its siren call sooner. Perhaps his fame would be ten-fold by now. His fame, money, and glory all in arm’s reach the moment he made a deal with the fire.
All it wanted in return were souls to satisfy its hunger. He made many sacrifices for it over the years. The nameless girls who wandered willingly into his dressing room. Well-paid security made disposal easy. This time though, he thought, he needed something stronger to finally shut them up for good.
Movement in the corner of his eye made him jump. Pain ripped into him, causing him to chatter his teeth. The room felt heavy, as if another presence was there. The heartbeat monitor quickened its sound to keep up with Lucian’s rising pulse.
Dred sank into him. It was always her looming around.
Juan kicked off his rattlesnake-skin boots and flicked them to the center of the room. Tio Lucian’s room was surprisingly warm, given that the storm outside stirred in cold air. He tucked the blanket underneath his chin and rolled onto his side. His legs thrashed about, as if tiny insects were squirming up and down his calves. Juan threw the blankets off and rubbed his legs to rid himself of the feeling.
As a child, he always awoke to the feeling of being watched. At the edge of his bed, out the corner of his eye, it looked like dark figures were crouched over him. The instant he turned his head, nothing was there but the quiet stillness of the house. But he was sure they were there.
The hard rain pummeling against the roof of the house kept him awake. Walls seemed to groan and creak with the fluctuations of the wind. And in the uneasiness, Juan slipped into the memory of his mother’s death caught on tape.
The gunshot rang out in his head, and the audience erupted into panicked screams. His mother slumped over as security struggled to apprehend the gunman.
“Twenty-five-year-old Alonzo Gutierrez Rivera took the life of Rosalinda Ramirez that day. His reasoning? —the devil made him do it,” the news reporter stated in the video clip.
A clasp of thunder rang out overhead. Juan sniffled hard and rolled onto his back as lightning flickered. It looked like someone was standing outside the window.
Paquita’s hand slapped down on Joanna’s shoulder and violently shook her. She took in a sharp inhale as Paquita forced her into an upright position.
“You scared me,” Joanna panted as she clutched her chest. Paquita held a shaking finger to her trembling lip. Joanna slowly rose and noticed that behind her sister, through the curtains, was the outline of a swaying figure. The lightning outside flashed, making the shape more defined. The figure hunched over, slowly slinking away towards the back of the house.
“Shut the curtains in all the rooms, and make sure every window is locked,” Paquita ordered as she climbed across the bed to check the latches of the window.
“Hell no! And let whatever’s out there see my face?” Joanna hissed. “Shouldn’t we call the police or something? Doesn’t Tio Francisco have a gun in the house?” Paquita grabbed her sister’s wrist and yanked her into the hallway.
“Sylvia!” she sternly called out into the living room. On the couch, Sylvia curled into a fetal position, facing the large windows. The curtains were left drawn apart to allow more light in. They raced forward to place their hands on their baby sister. The pain erupted at Paquita’s side, making her dig her nails sharply into Sylvia.
“Cabrona! What the hell was that for?” Sylvia shrieked, sitting up. The lightning lit up the room, and Paquita froze, locking eyes with the figure in the window. Her heart squeezed as cold white eyes burrowed into hers. Under the witch’s eye, black smudges crept down her cheeks. Her cracked and brittle lips moved as if relaying an urgent message. Joanna let out an ear-piercing scream and yanked her big sister back up to her feet.
Sylvia rolled off the couch and crawled behind Paquita’s legs. The specter swayed side to side, taking no pause in the fast movements of her mouth. But something in Paquita settled, like water discontinuing a flow of bubbles to the surface. Her head slightly leaned forward towards La Bruja. Her head fluttered with heavy throbbing.
“Run!” Paquita heard over the chaos of the pounding in her head and the downpour outside. The lips of La Bruja began to create sounds. A flicker of words pierced through the glass. Paquita took careful steps to the window. Her knees sank into the old couch cushions as she pressed her palms against the cool glass. She swiped her hand, clearing a path in the condensation to get a better look. Her forehead rested against the glass, and, on the other side, the bruja did the same.
“Say it again, but slower,” Paquita muttered, fog spilling from her lips.
“Come outside,” it beckoned to her. Paquita stepped back and headed for the front door.
The sound of the blood pressure cuff woke up Lucian. He blinked, clearing the glassy fog that had clouded his eyesight. Something around the edges of the room raced into one of the corners. Lucian bolted up. He clutched onto the railing of the bed, feeling the pain shoot into him. He settled his head back against the pillow, letting out a slow sigh.
Ever since Rosalinda’s death, he caught the hint of her perfume from time to time. Following the deep smell, he saw shadows lingering on the edge of his vision. He spent thousands on security cameras for his mansion in Oaxaca, looking for an image of what always evaded his direct glare. Nothing could capture it. The pressure cuff released its hold just as the lights above him flickered. The bolts inside him seemed to slightly budge, making him wince.
A loud gunshot echoed in the room, causing him to cry out. The lights in the room went out, leaving him stranded in darkness.
The cold rain soaked into Paquita’s hoodie and chilled her skin. She shivered, trying to see through the dizzying darkness and constant splatter of heavy rains. The ground beneath her shifted, making her sink into the mud.
La Bruja hovered closer, and Paquita cast her eyes down.
“Look at me,” the witch’s hoarse voice whispered. Paquita’s eyes met hers. The specter’s eyes glazed with a soft white glow, and she leaned closer.
“Who are you?” Paquita asked as she moved wet clumps of hair out of the way.
“Who are you?” it echoed the question back. Paquita’s brows furrowed with confusion.
“Daughter of Rosalinda Ramirez. The famous banda singer.” The spirit let its mouth slip open, exposing black-lined teeth. Paquita recoiled as a sharp sound blared out. Her mother’s voice belted out a ballad from out of the being’s throat.
“Mami?” she whimpered, her lips trembling. She reached out her hand, then withdrew it quickly, hugging it against her chest. La Bruja tilted her head as if surprised. “What do you want from us?”
“A curse is upon this home. Laid down by a great evil. It stirs again tonight, just as it has over the years. I came to offer a warning.” Paquita shook her head and spat out the rain that had seeped into her parted lips. The pain at her side throbbed, making her lean forward. “He has made you quite ill.”
La Bruja wheezed as she cackled.
Juan raced out the bedroom door in time to crash into his siblings.
“What the hell is going on?” he screamed as Joanna clawed at the front of his shirt.
Tio Francisco came stumbling down the hallway. He rubbed the back of his head and looked sleepily at the siblings. “Que esta pasando?” Joanna moved past him into one of the rooms.
“La Bruja,” Sylvia panted. “She’s here.” Joanna peered through the curtains carefully, searching for any sign of the figure.
“Wait, where’s Paquita?” Juan asked. Tio Francisco threw open a trunk in the living room and withdrew a pistol. He put his finger on the trigger and waved it towards the window.
“Tio, be careful!” Juan shouted, raising his arms up to push his sisters behind him.
“Look,” Sylvia screamed, pointing outside. The lightning flashed, illuminating La Bruja and Paquita in a sinister glow. Tio Francisco leaned forwards, aimed the gun, and squeezed on the trigger. Glass exploded outwards, mixing with the downpour of rain.
“How do I stop it?” Paquita asked. La Bruja turned her eyes to the mountain, making Paquita look over her shoulder and gaze upwards. Near the top, a warm orange light stood out against the surrounding black sky.
“A fire?” Paquita gasped. Rain flowed down her face as she began to turn her body. The sound of a gunshot ripped through the night and ignited the side of her body. Paquita grimaced but refocused on the mountain. Lightning lit up the sky, exposing a path, trailing up to the distant flames.
“Francisca,” a garbled, distant voice called out. Her eyes glazed as she took slow strides up to the mountain. Paquita danced her eyes back and forth in the dark, searching out anything that looked like dark voids. The mountains had old sinkholes from the abandoned mines, and she warned herself to be wary.
The voice called again. Paquita could feel the warmth of the light getting closer. She looked back to see if she could make out the house. Behind her, only the night and currents from the river could be heard.
The flow of the rain lessened, and the slick rocks made her legs wobble with anxiety. At last, Paquita arrived on a flat edge. Through the light trickle of rain, a small fire burned from out the pristine white sand. She froze, recalling her tio’s story about who sent the fire. She began to turn her eyes away.
“Francisca,” a hoarse voice hummed from the dancing orange flames. Her eyes reflected the intensifying light. The air around her warmed, chasing away the iciness of the rain. Paquita leaned forward, noticing something moved inside the fire.
“I can give you anything you desire.” Cameras flashed as Lucian Ramirez was led away in handcuffs. Reporters shoved their microphones over the police and into Lucian’s face. His crooked designer sunglasses bounced back their snarling reflections.
“Lucian! Is it true that you hired a hitman to kill your own sister?”
“Did you meet with Rivera in person?”
“Was it your gun he fired?”
An image flashed of the band performing in a sold-out arena. Sylvia smiled as she twirled her drumsticks before going back to clashing them on the cymbals. Paquita looked back at her and gave a thumbs up before returning the microphone to her lips.
Their outfits all shined under the glowing lamp lights as their mother’s costume once had. A banner flowed behind them of Rosalinda. Her still brown eyes hovered above the stage, blessing them in their much-deserved journey.
Paquita sank back, a grin spread across her face. The light spray of rain shook her from the visions.
“It hasn’t happened,” she whispered, slowly shaking her head. “It won’t happen.”
“It could.” Paquita’s brows knitted together. “I can give you riches beyond your wildest dreams. Never again will you hunger or thirst. I can give you everything and more.”
“Can’t you see?” Paquita muttered, changing her stance. She balled up her fist and took a step back. “I am nothing like my Tio Lucian. He gladly turned his back on this family for fame and money. But me? My family is everything. Everything we’ve done is for each other, and what we’ve accomplished was won with our blood, sweat, and tears. I need not make dealings here in the dark for it.”
The flame fluttered in thought. “You would not even want a chance at healing from that wound?” Paquita looked down as blood spilled down her side, soaking into the fabric of her hoodie and seeping down her leg. Suddenly, she felt lightheaded, and everything around her began to tilt.
She fell forward onto all fours. Her hands pushed up the sand making small mounds in the spaces between her fingers. “Mama.”
“She is gone. Taken by her own brother’s greed. Wouldn’t you want to pay back the offense?” the flames taunted.
Paquita lifted her eyes up to stare into the flames. Tears streaked down her face, creating clear paths on her soot-covered face. “He brought it on her?”
“Give him a taste of his own venom. Spill his blood as he has. You only need to say, and everything you ever imagined will come to pass.” Paquita’s nostrils flared, and her bottom lip trembled with rage.
“She loved her brother,” she cried, bowing her head. The pain at her side increased, and she gritted her teeth.
“Teach him a lesson. Use his own work against him.” Paquita sat up on her knees, shaking her head.
“Lucian made his dealings long ago. Whatever pact he made with you has nothing to do with the rest of us.” Paquita staggered up, starting to turn her back. The flames intensified, roaring with heat.
“All your mother's music, every word she put down on paper, and all the money she strived for were gone to him the moment the bullet tore through her flesh.” A gunshot rang out, making Paquita duck and cover her head. She sat back up, and her eyesight hazed.
“And it was you who let him do it,” she snapped. “If my tio has run out of favors with you, then let him answer for it. As for us, this career could go away tomorrow, and we would still walk away knowing we honored my mother.” Paquita lay down on her side, her breathing slowed into shallow puffs. The fire dimmed as if finally affected by the falling rain.
“Mami,” Paquita whimpered, feeling everything start to fade to black.
Joanna screamed, her heart squeezing in terror. A cold wind blew through the house, knocking the screen door in the kitchen open. Juan raced forward to look out the broken window. Through the mist of the rain, he could make out Paquita’s shape heading up the path towards the mountain.
“What's happening?” Juan gasped, pulling his sisters into a tight embrace. Tio Francisco shuffled to the window and kicked away loose bits of glass. The whirl of the generator sounded, and the lights in the house flickered back to life.
“Paquita!” Joanna screamed, running outside. “Come on, nena! Come back!” She gazed down, seeing the mud tracks dotted with thick dark spots mixing with the stream of water. Tio Francisco let out a deep sob and covered his face.
“Mi niña! I wasn’t aiming for her!” he shrieked. Sylvia slowly panned her head up, noticing, at the peak, a large orange flame fluttered unbothered by the increasing flow of the rain. A shiver ran through her, and she slapped Joanna’s arm to get her to look.
Out of the corner of his eye, a thick shadow formed in the corner of Lucian’s room. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, ripping his IV lines from his arm. He gritted his teeth together as the machines wildly blared their alarms. He slid, landing on the cold linoleum floor. The gown opened, exposing the stitched-up wounds on his right side. He looked over to see the shadow creeping closer.
“No! Leave me alone!” he cried, using all his strength to yank himself up. “We had a deal!” Lucian pressed his good shoulder against the wall for support and hurried to the door.
The lights in the hall had been dimmed to allow patients to rest. No person could be found in either direction.
“Auxilio!” Lucian shouted. He wobbled as he threw himself to the opposite side of the hallway. Behind him, he sensed the shadow rushing towards him. His eyes squeezed shut as it pressed its cold face against his. He peered out slowly, expecting the horrific face of La Bruja he had once seen.
Rosalinda Ramirez’s eyes filled with a faint white glow. Her skin paled and took on a hue of grey. Her dry, chapped lips moved quickly, barely touching, in their urgency to speak. And on her chest, the cavernous hole made by the bullet that had taken her life.
The corners of Lucian’s mouth stretched, tearing wide to accommodate the screams escaping him. He fell backward, undoing all the tight stitches on his side. As they unwove, thick-red blood pooled out.
“Get back!” he shouted, swinging his arm. A grin spread across his sister’s mouth. She floated closer, darkness following her close behind. Her vacant eyes widened as thick, tangled strands of her hair fell on him like a curtain. Lucian’s garbled shrieks faded as the nothingness swallowed him.
Rain showered down Paquita’s face and ran off the sides to the back of her head. She blinked and realized she was staring up at the night sky. Her arms dangled at her sides, swaying freely. She tried to sit up, but the pain forced her back down.
“Paquita!” The screaming sounded underwater, and she couldn’t tell if it was Joanna or Sylvia. Thunderous footsteps echoed around her, bouncing off the crags of the mountains. She turned and faced La Bruja, whose terrifying eyes gave way to gentleness and hints of worry. Paquita weakly smiled at her. All along, the specter had been warning, trying to save them from Tio Lucian’s evil dealings.
La Bruja laid Paquita down onto the muddy ground as the family crowded around her. Tio Francisco howled, tears running down his face. “Perdoname, Paquita. Fue un accidente.” Juan hurried to rip his shirt off and pressed it over the wound. Paquita’s eyes grew heavy, fluttering to close.
“No! Stay awake,” Joanna shouted, gently shaking Paquita’s head. La Bruja stepped closer, kneeling beside Paquita’s sprawled-out body. She placed her pale phantom hands over the exit of the bullet.
“With no more fuel to feed the fire, Lucian Ramirez has no hold upon this family anymore. He is left to pay his debts and pay he shall. From henceforth, you live free away from the reign of his selfish evil,” La Bruja spoke, her voice becoming smoother with each word. She gently pressed into Paquita’s stomach.
Paquita groaned, eyes rolling into the back of her head. Her heart thumped wildly in her body, kicking back the fading organs into life. A sharp intake of breath caused Paquita to burst out in a coughing fit. Sylvia’s shoulders dropped in relief, and she touched her forehead with her big sister.
“Milagro!” cried Tio Francisco. He cupped the back of Paquita’s neck and kissed her cheek. “I thought I was about to lose you like I lost your mother.” He turned to look over his shoulder and then searched feverishly around. “Donde se fue?”
Juan stood up, turning in a fast circle. “She’s gone.” Paquita sat up with the help of Joanna. The rain stopped, but the rumble of thunder reverberated around them. A flash of lightning lit up the sky, and no sign of La Bruja remained.
Morning birds sang as Paquita carefully opened the screen door to the kitchen. Fresh air hit her lungs, and the scent of dew awoke her. The mountains loomed above the house. No longer threatening but vigilant and majestic.
“You should come on tour with us, tio,” Paquita heard Juan say to Tio Francisco.
“No, mijo, those days for me are over. It’s never been the same without your mom. She’d be very proud if she could see you all now,” he mumbled with a shaky breath. Paquita entered just as Sylvia and Joanna finished loading the van.
“At least let us put you up in a hotel until we get that window fixed,” Joanna suggested. Tio Francisco waved her off as he rustled a garbage bag open. He tossed old cans in and eyed the kitchen with concern like he had been blind to the mess.
“I’ll be fine. There’s a lot of work to do, and no one comes up here anymore. Your abuela’s spirit is going to pull my toes tonight if I don’t pick this mess up. I’m more scared of her than any bruja,” he teased. Paquita reached over and wrapped her arms around him. Each sibling took a turn hugging and saying their goodbyes to him.
Joanna shut the sliding door of the van as Tio Francisco waved from the front door. Paquita lifted her shirt and ran her palm over where she had been shot. No punctures or scars marred her side.
“Holy shit!” Sylvia shouted, holding out her phone to Joanna. Her eyes grew, and she hurried to pass it to Juan.
“Lucian Ramirez, dead at age fifty-six from surgical complications,” Juan read aloud. Paquita glanced at the screen. The article had a photo of Lucian dressed as a Mariachi with his birthdate and the current year. An embedded video began to play of mourners clutching onto thin white candles as they sang off-key his song “Rey de Parral.” Juan swiped on the screen, cutting off the sound. The van filled with silence. Paquita side-glanced at her brother. He shrugged and flicked on the radio.
The tail end of a song blasted as a DJ began to talk. “Again, que descanse en paz, Lucian Ramirez. His legacy will be remembered. The children of Rosalinda Ramirez must be having a bittersweet morning. They are set to perform at Torreón’s Festival de los Refugios tonight. Their single off their latest album is spiking up the charts this morning. They’re trending on all platforms.”
“Trending?” Joanna gasped, quickly opening up the band’s social media account. Paquita could feel excitement creeping inside her.
“In memory of the late Lucian, we will be throwing it back to his early days when he was a member of his family’s band. We can never forget where we come from,” the DJ said as an accordion played the intro to one of Los Espanto’s greatest hits.
“Y quien somos?” their mother’s voice called from the speakers.
“Los Espantos de Parral!” the siblings shouted with glee.