Lisa worked at a little tourist trap café on Old San Juan’s famous Calle del Cristo, which served overpriced deli sandwiches and piña coladas. She’d always handled her waitressing duties splendidly, and hadn’t had any problems. Not until a few weeks ago, anyway. It had all started with a cold that wouldn’t go away, which compounded brief bouts with depression. She’d just thought she was being overworked, that the stress was affecting her moods, but other than taking a short vacation she couldn’t afford to cut back on her hours. She was already too close to having to move back in with her parents. That thought gave her enough anxiety on its own.
Anxiety. The word hung poised above her head like the blade of a guillotine. The even more frightening term ‘Social Anxiety Disorder’, had been placed inside a box made of will alone, locked, and tossed in the ocean to be carried away by the waves that lapped mercilessly at the city walls. She hoped they would carry away the feeling of being watched, scrutinized, that had been hounding her.
Lisa was scared of being scared. Accepting it meant letting it become a reality, and once something is real, it can’t be made unreal, can it? She could beat this. She didn’t need drugs. She’d always had the deep-rooted belief, though she could not remember what it was based on, that drugs, even the legal ones, were for the weak. She was stronger than that.
She felt rather exposed, standing by the table while the couple, who wouldn’t let her get a word in edgewise, carried on as if she didn’t exist, while between breaths insisting she not go, that they were ready. She dropped her gaze, staring at a corner of the table, hoping the floor would open up and swallow her. “Sir,” she said, her voice sounding hollow in her ears. “Ma’am.” She swallowed and sucked in a breath. “I will be back when you’re ready.” Her smile had faded three minutes earlier and she was unable to turn it back on. She merely turned around and returned to the kitchen.
Somebody had put five dollars into the jukebox by the wall and selected all the Elvis Presley songs on the list. As Lisa passed it, she fought the urge to unplug it and reset the queue. Somebody would demand their money back and she didn’t feel like dealing with that.
She didn’t feel like dealing with a lot of things, particularly not Elvis feelin’ so lonely he could cry. But that was not far from Lisa’s own emotions as she locked herself up in the staff lavatory and sat on the toilet lid, face in her hands. She groaned mutedly, then shut her eyes tightly. She wasn’t going to give in to her fear.
Then came a knock at the door. “Lisa?” said her manager, Miguel. “You have two tables waiting for you.”
She wanted to cry, but she stood up. “I’ll be right there,” she said, and quickly splashed her face with water and patted it dry with a paper towel. Feeling slightly better, she left the bathroom. She could immediately see the bickering couple had stopped bickering, which was a big improvement. Her other table was occupied by a man. He had just arrived, so he could wait.
She took the couple’s order quickly and returned it to the kitchen. She didn’t allow herself a pause before she approached the man’s table. She pegged him immediately as a tourist: he was blond and Germanic, and was wearing a hideous Hawaiian shirt no self-respecting Puerto Rican under the age of 50 would let himself be seen in. He seemed like a tourist trying to play it local and failing miserably, like most tourists she encountered. “Hello and welcome to Café del Cristo,” she said in one breath. “Would you like a drink to start with?” She kept her smile plastered on her face and hoped it looked genuine.
The man looked at her, almost like he was studying her. Many times she’d told herself she was being paranoid about getting looks like that from people, but there it was, right in front of her in all its evil glory.
He didn’t look that much older than Lisa, maybe four or five years which would put him in the vicinity of 30. Normally, Lisa would have no problems dealing with men his age, returning any stares and even staring them down a couple of notches. But this man wasn’t so easily dissuaded from whatever it was he wanted.
“Drink?” she repeated weakly, feeling herself shriveling under his gaze. It was like he was peeling away her skin to take a look at the flesh and bone. She cleared her throat and thrust the menu down at him. “Sir?”
He took it without ceremony. “I would like a glass of orange juice, please,” he said. His voice was calm, perhaps a bit flat, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. Just another Yankee accent in Old San Juan.
“Right away, sir,” she replied. She wanted to turn and run, or at least walk fast, hand over the juice order and lock herself in the bathroom again. But he wouldn’t stop staring, and she couldn’t move. For a moment she felt as if the lights in the café flickered. That alone wasn’t particularly unusual, as the old power lines in the city weren’t always reliable, but as the lights seemed to dim, it was as if the man’s face changed along with the shadows.
For a split second, he looked like a negative image of himself, face and hair a glowing black void. His eyes were like white flames, but his teeth were the worst: they were a deep red, sharp like tiny daggers. His mouth opened as if to swallow her whole…
Lisa screamed and tripped over her own feet trying to back away from the apparition. She wasn’t aware of the café’s patrons and other staff reacting to her outburst. All she knew was that she had to get away from this creature as fast as possible. In her hysteria, she managed to get to her feet and stumble over to the wall where she hit her back against the jukebox.
Elvis hiccuped and fell silent.
Someone grabbed her arm, startling her. She turned her head, staring blankly at Miguel. “Lisa, ¿que te pasa?” he asked.
She blinked, her heart racing, pulse beating wildly against her throat. He shook her gently but firmly, making her gasp. “I’m fine,” she said automatically.
“Like hell,” he replied. “Come on.” He was leading her by the arm towards the bathroom.
“Wait,” Lisa protested. “The man.”
Her boss ignored her, letting her into the bathroom and stepping inside with her. “What happened to you?” he asked again.
She was crying, feeling like her face and ears would go nuclear from the heat accumulating in them. “I don’t know,” she said.
“Why were you screaming?” Miguel asked.
“The man isn’t a man he’s a monster,” she said, and burst into a fresh wave of sobs that kept her from continuing.
“A monster?” Miguel was as incredulous as Lisa expected. It only made her cry harder. “You said you were okay to work,” Miguel continued. “If you’re starting to freak out about things now then maybe you–“
“I’m not crazy!” she said.
“I know you’re not crazy,” he said. “But what am I supposed to do? Pretend that you didn’t just scare the entire clientele? You’re having some kind of nervous breakdown and you better do something about it if you want to keep working. I’m telling you this as your boss, but I hope you listen to me as a friend. I don’t want to fire you.”
She nodded, wiping at her nose with a tissue.
“Now go home. I’ll take over the rest of your shift myself. Hell, take the rest of the week, I’ll shuffle everyone else around to cover you.”
“Thank you,” Lisa said, sniffling.
“Don’t thank me, get help,” Miguel said. Blushing, she gathered her purse from the back room and returned to the dining area. Her heart racing, she scanned the room, but the man was gone. For a second she thought she could tell Miguel she was okay to work again, now that the monster was gone, but he’d been right. This episode was nothing but a symptom of bigger problems. She knew she wasn’t crazy, but couldn’t this just be exhaustion?
It was with extreme caution that she stepped onto the sidewalk. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The mid-afternoon sun was beating mercilessly on the street; the umbrellas on the tables set on the cobblestones outside barely protected the few patrons who braved the heat. The café was almost at the dead end of the street, a mere few paces from the Capilla del Cristo, the chapel the street was named after.
She clutched her purse close to her body as she walked towards the chapel, compulsively looking over her shoulder, searching for, yet dreading, signs of the frightening stranger. She meant to turn left, duck between the chapel and the knick-knack shop on the opposite corner, and walk along the city wall behind it towards her apartment. But instead, she paused before the chapel and turned right, entering the small park wedged between the t-shirt store at the end of the street and the stone wall.
It wasn’t much of a park. Most of it was paved over with red and gray cobblestones. Two large gnarled trees stood in huge twin cement boxes rising from the floor, and a few small palm trees grew from a lonely patch of grass. There were a few wooden benches along the length of the park, but they were covered in the park’s main attraction: pigeons of all colors and sizes carpeted the park, crowding around the few children that fed them from small brown bags of chopped dry corn.
Without much thought, Lisa purchased one of the small paper bags from the vendor at the entrance, and reached into it as she walked to a shaded corner, trying to stay within the shadow of the trees without standing directly under them. Pigeons were everywhere: in the branches, on the stone ledge, walking along the ground, and flying all around her.
She pulled a handful of seed from the bag and sprinkled it carelessly on the ground. Soon she had a large pigeon standing on her fingers and pecking at the palm of her hand. She grinned, feeling some of her fear blow away in the breeze. Things were just as they were supposed to be. The sun was shining as it did almost every day in San Juan, the pigeons were still greedy little bastards, and she could go home and watch the soaps.
She left the park with less of the heaviness that had followed her from work. She followed the contours of the old city, barely paying attention to the other people around her. But as she reached the shaded area of an old bastion-turned-rest-plaza, something caught her eye. It was not unusual to see the occasional homeless person lying on a bench somewhere, trying to catch a bit of a nap before the cops chased them off. But this man was lying on the floor, only a few paces from the bench. Lisa squinted against the sun and stared at the figure. He was lying face-down, matted hair obscuring his face. For a second, Lisa thought she saw a hint of blood on the stone below him.
Normally she would have kept walking. It was none of her business if some bum gave up the ghost in the middle of the tiny plaza. But this haunted her, like the man from the café haunted her. If she crawled back into her cocoon and shut the whole world out, she would be back where she started. If the homeless man was indeed dead, then she had nothing to fear, did she?
She approached cautiously, speaking softly. “¿Señor? ¿Hola?” She repeated the words a bit louder when she got no response. Finally she stood next to him, staring helplessly.
“Sir?” She bit her lower lip and lightly nudged his thigh with her shoe. She wasn’t sure she wanted to touch him otherwise. The body twitched for a moment, then settled.
Alive? She knelt suddenly then reached out a hand, steeling herself for what she might feel when her fingertips closed around the tattered cloth of the man’s shirt. The smell of unwashed humanity reached her nostrils, but she kept from gagging through pure force of will. Still chewing on her lip, she touched the man’s arm.
He came to life in a sudden spasm, rolling onto his side and almost all the way onto his back. He stared at her, wide-eyed. The whites of his eyes were a faded yellow, and his pupils were dilated the whole way until only a thin rim of pale gray remained. His beard was long and matted and his skin covered in dirt. There was blood coming from the corner of his mouth.
Then she saw the splatter of blood on his chest. “Oh God!” she gasped, trying to back away from him and falling flat on her ass in the process.
He was struggling for air, but he reached out a hand towards her. He was holding something in his hand, clutching it as if holding onto life itself.
“What is it?” she asked.
He made a wet sound at the back of his throat, and Lisa knew he was about to die. How could he still be alive with such a wound? It looked to be close to his heart, if not right in it. But he stared at her directly, and made an insistent movement with his outstretched hand. He wanted her to take the object from him, though Lisa didn’t know what it was.
But she could humor a dying man. She nodded nervously and reached out for his hand. Unceremoniously, he dropped his treasure onto her palm, and died.
Lisa couldn’t stop watching him right away. She had never seen death happening right in front of her, and it threw her for a momentary loop.
Then she finally looked at the item in her possession. It was a green gem about the size of her thumb, carved in a strange shape and tied to a frayed leather thong. Lisa didn’t know much about gemstones; the only green gems she knew about were emeralds. What was a homeless man doing with such a treasure?
She lifted her gaze from the gem to look at its previous owner and gasped. The body who lay before her was no longer the tattered old man. The form had changed into that of a young man, a beautiful young man with long dark hair that appeared to have been brushed until it shone. The clothes were not the same either, they seemed regal, silk and velvet embroidered with rich designs in golden thread. His eyes, still open, were a radiant green, not unlike the gem that suddenly dropped from her hand and clattered onto the stone bricks below her.
The vision faded, the young man turning into the bum once again. Tears began to stream down Lisa’s cheeks as she sobbed quietly. “This isn’t real, I’m seeing things. This isn’t real. Just like the guy at the café,” she whispered over and over.
But she knew that on some level it was real. She had held the stone in her hand, felt its rough edges and the weight and warmth of it in her hand. It was warm. Shouldn’t it be cold? Her hand shaking, she picked up the stone again.
This time she didn’t drop it, though it came close to falling from her hand at the nervous reaction to the change in her vision. The beautiful young man was there again, in place of the homeless man. This time she held onto the stone long enough to examine him. The wound was still visible, beneath a tear in the rich purple fabric. But despite the mild revulsion to the blood and torn dead flesh, she had to find out if the vision was real. She rose to a crouch and reached out to touch the dark green velvet of the man’s sleeve. It felt as soft as she’d expected.
Feeling bolder, she moved her hand to his face, and touched the cool flesh. There was no hint of a shadow on his jaw, though he looked quite old enough to shave. Her fingers brushed aside part of his hair.
This time she didn’t gasp at what she saw. She was beyond surprise; she’d passed over into a state of mild shock mixed with wonder. She even ran the tip of her finger along the edge of his delicately pointed ear. She knew now what she was looking at though she could not yet believe it. Elves were only stories, myths that primitive cultures had used to explain the unexplainable.
With a last failing shred of rationality, she gave the ear a bit of a tug, imagining it would come free and prove to be nothing more than costume. But the ear held fast, shattering the last of her disbelief.
Lisa was trembling nervously, but she no longer had denial as a choice, not for the moment. She stood up and brushed dust off the seat of her pants, her right hand still clutching the magical gem. It was the one bit of physical evidence she could take with her without desecrating the body. Emboldened by her decision, she pulled the thong down over her head to hang around her neck. The gem rested against the front of her shirt, but its magic no longer seemed to work. The vision of the elf was gone.
Frowning, she grabbed the stone to take it off, but at the first contact with the skin of her hand the vision was back. Thinking fast, Lisa stuffed the gem down the front of her shirt, where it came to rest between her breasts. Against her bare skin, it proved effective.
She took a deep breath and looked around. Everything looked normal but for the body before her. What was she meant to do now? She could go home as planned, watch an afternoon talk show or two, then catch up on her reading as she had planned. But going through the routine seemed laughable as she looked down at the dead elf.
“Elf,” she muttered to herself and let out an insane giggle. This couldn’t be happening, particularly not to her. “I probably am crazy,” she told herself and began to walk away from the bench and the body beneath it.
Getting home would not be so easy. The feeling of paranoia that she’d been working so hard to shake for the past few weeks was back with a vengeance. She felt as if she’d been trailing toilet paper on her shoe or her period had come too early and had stained through her clothes. Both things had happened in high school, and the embarrassment still haunted her. She kept looking over her shoulder, pressing her back against the wall and letting whoever walked behind her pass her by on the narrow sidewalks. It was during one of those instances that she spotted another anachronism across the paved street.
She suspected the young man looked like just another homeless person to everyone else. She could tell by the dirty blanket he sat on and the remains of McDonald’s wrappers and soda cans pooled beside him, which were in sharp contrast with his colorful garments and carefully braided blond hair. He had a paper cup in one hand and was making a half-assed attempt to coax people to drop their spare change into it.
This was a well-transited street. He couldn’t hurt her in front of everyone. Confident in her safety, she reached into her purse and took out a couple of dimes from her wallet. She crossed the street and dropped the change into the cup. The elf smiled halfheartedly at her and muttered thanks.
She paused, torn between moving along and confronting him with what she saw. “One of your kind is dead,” she finally said.
He frowned and looked up at her without moving from his spot. “What are you talking about?”
“He’s been stabbed, left in the bastion right up that street.” She pointed.
“My kind?” he said, counting the change in his cup. “What do you mean by that?”
“You’re an elf, aren’t you?”
The elf laughed. The sound that came from his mouth was at once delightful and frightening. It wasn’t like the laugh of a human, there was too much depth in every exhalation. Finally he calmed down enough to speak. “Haven’t been called that one in a few centuries.”
“So you admit it?”
He shrugged, looking past her to the busy street. “What’s the use of denying it? It’s not like I’m disguised for my health or anything.”
“Then why are you?” Lisa asked.
“None of your business,” he said, and held out his cup for another passer-by. His effort went unrewarded.
“I’ll give you a dollar!” Lisa blurted.
This caught the elf’s attention, and he lowered his cup. “What do you want?”
“I want to know what’s going on.”
The elf pursed his lips and looked around. “It’s three-something in the P.M., mostly sunny with a hint of cloud. There’s currently seventeen people on this block of street, and I’m sitting here waiting for an impudent little mortal to get to some sort of point.” He held out his cup. “That’ll be one dollar.”
He was beautiful, almost as much as the dead elf, but his arrogance made him as obnoxious as any man she knew. “Very funny. Who are you?” She folded her arms and stared him down. The underlying idea that she had merely lost her mind and was living in some sort of hallucination still tickled at her consciousness, but it only made her more adamant to act as if everything that was happening to her was completely normal.
With a hint of a smirk, the elf stood up and bowed before her. “Eldrex, former Third Lieutenant of the Queen’s Army, at your service.”
“There’s a queen?” Lisa asked, staring.
“Of course there’s a queen,” Eldrex replied. “Don’t you read Shakespeare?”
Lisa arched a brow and frowned at him. “Those are just stories.”
“All stories are based on truth.” Eldrex said, taking his change out of the cup and putting it in a pocket hanging from his belt. Then he lifted his left foot and reached into his boot, taking out a crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights. “You don’t mind if I smoke, do you?” he asked automatically as he lit up and took a drag without waiting for her response.
The sight of an elf smoking a cigarette struck Lisa as extremely funny, and she began to giggle uncontrollably.
“What, do you want one?” Eldrex asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t smoke.” She regained her composure and watched him for a moment, forgetting the ludicrousness of her situation. “Your friend is dead.”
“I don’t have any friends. And if he’s an elf like you say, he can’t be dead.”
“He is. Someone stabbed him through the heart.”
“Elves are immortal.”
“Even when stabbed through the heart?”
Eldrex didn’t reply right away. He continued to smoke until the cigarette was halfway gone. “How do you know so much?” he finally asked.
“The other elf, the one who died, he gave me this,” she said, reluctantly lifting the gem from within her shirt, careful never to lose direct contact with it.
Eldrex recognized it. His eyelids flickered and opened wide. “You took Duke Alfarell’s Eye!”
“He gave it to me,” she said, taking a step back from Eldrex’s sudden outburst. “What did you call it? An eye? He had it in his hand, he gave it to me.”
“You don’t deserve that, little girl,” Eldrex said menacingly.
Lisa took another step back. She didn’t want to be parted from her new treasure. She was finally peeling back the layers of a reality she’d only ever disbelieved, and on a certain level, feared. She wouldn’t give up her new-found sight so easily. “He gave it to me.”
“Prove it! Prove you didn’t tear it from his hand.”
“So you admit he’s dead.”
“Prove it wasn’t you who killed him.” The rage flashed in his eyes like blue fire.
“Why would I do that?” she asked, her voice trembling. He was much taller than her, and there was power coiled up tightly in his every muscle, ready, like a cobra, to strike at the slightest provocation.
“Give me the Eye,” Eldrex said, reaching for her shirt.
That was more than she could bear. She jumped out of reach and began to shout. “¡Policía! This man is harassing me!” She didn’t know if there were any cops nearby, but a small crowd began to gather around them, some asking what was going on, others rebuking the alleged attacker. In the confusion, Lisa slipped away. She hurried home, not quite running, wanting to avoid undue attention.
Finally she locked the front door of her apartment, then as an afterthought, wedged a chair under the doorknob. Her windows had bars, but she still made sure the old wooden shutters were closed and locked tight. To combat the heat that was already growing, she turned on the ceiling fans.
She stared at the television for hours, but didn’t grasp a single image from its screen. Her brain kept spinning, replaying the events of the afternoon, starting with the incident at the café. It didn’t seem to fit with everything that had happened before. She definitely hadn’t seen an elf at that table, and she didn’t have the Eye then. The more she thought about it, and the later in the evening it became, the more it seemed like a distant dream.
She slept fitfully, the gemstone still at her neck, heavy on her chest. She could not bear to part with it, but the awareness of its contact continued to hound her unconscious mind. When she was finally able to shake the vestiges of uneasy sleep, it was past eleven in the morning. If she’d dreamt of anything other than the weirdness of the previous day, she couldn’t remember it. She didn’t try to.
Instead, she showered quickly and set out before doubts could stop her. She wasn’t sure where she was going or why until she rounded the corner, at which point she began to form a mental list. In the light of a new day things didn’t seem quite so overwhelming. After all, the practical option was to accept the new development, at least for the time being. Denial would not work, and would get her nowhere.
She headed straight for the Café del Cristo. As she walked, she noticed that Eldrex, whose name still reminded her of allergy medicine, wasn’t where she’d seen him the day before. She wondered what had become of him but hoped she wouldn’t find out yet. She was vaguely nervous as she approached her place of work, so she almost missed what she might otherwise have noticed right away.
Squinting against the midday sun, it took her a few moments to direct her gaze towards the park at the end of the street. The pigeons fluttering about the entrance didn’t catch her attention, not until they were joined by something far more colorful, far brighter than any pigeon, though just as small. Lisa was drawn to the apparitions, but by the time she reached the park’s entrance, the strange figures were gone.
She frowned, looking around before purchasing a bag of feed, more out of habit than anything else. Chewing on her lower lip, she sought what little shade she could find and held out a handful of corn. The pigeons immediately gathered at her feet, picking up the few bits she let fall between her fingers. She knew it would not be long before one of them braved perching on her hand.
But she got a surprise when a small colorful being zoomed towards her and landed on her hand. She stared, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as the tiny fairy began to collect bits of grain with one hand, and stuffed them into a little pouch she carried in the other. Her body was covered in leaves sewn together to form a little dress, and her wings were a delicate blue, like butterfly wings. She seemed to give off her own faint glow, easier to see in the shade.
The little fairy looked up at Lisa, staring expectantly, very much like the pigeon that had fed from her hand the day before had done, asking for more. Trying to keep her hand steady under the fairy’s weight, Lisa cleared her throat. “I didn’t know fairies ate birdseed.”
The little fairy squeaked and took off flying.
“Wait!” Lisa called. “I won’t hurt you!” She felt some stares turned her way, but she ignored them, scanning the branches with her gaze. She turned her eyes towards the wall to one side of the park, which had been carved full of holes for the pigeons to nest in. To her surprise, not all of them were occupied by pigeons.
The half-dozen or so fairies masquerading as pigeons watched her, whispering amongst themselves. Slowly, Lisa approached the wall. “I just want to talk.”
“You want to kill us!” one of the fairies, a male, shouted.
“No! I don’t! Never!” Lisa shook her head adamantly. “You don’t have to be afraid!”
“Yes we do,” a little fairy girl cried.
It took a lot of patience, but finally the fairy that had perched on her hand fluttered down to settle on Lisa’s outstretched forearm. “I don’t think she’s the Executioner,” the fairy said. “She likes to feed the pigeons. Besides! We can see her. Nobody sees the Executioner.”
“The Executioner?” Lisa asked.
The fairy sat with her legs dangling from Lisa’s arm and began to play nervously with her long hair. “We think the Biarakú sent him.”
“The what?” Lisa shook her head. “Wait, you’re losing me. Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your name?”
“Isleen,” the fairy said with a smile and a little sitting bow, accompanied by a quick flutter of her wings. “Exiled two-hundred and twelve years. I come up for revision in eighteen.”
“And they’ll send you back here for another two-hundred and thirty!” the male fairy called from his roost.
“Shut up!” Isleen shouted at the heckler. “I’ve been good!” She turned to Lisa and giggled. “You’re new, aren’t you? This island is Exile.”
Lisa had been following the exchange between the two fairies and nodded. “You mean like, a prison colony? For elves and fairies?”
“Whatever,” Isleen said. “You get the gist.” Then the little fairy sighed. “We were only supposed to spend our sentences here, but now we’re being exterminated.”
“The Executioner,” Lisa said. “Sent by the people who sent you here?”
Isleen tilted her head to the side. “Why would they do that? We think the Biarakú sent him.” She didn’t wait for the obvious question, and launched right into the answer. “They’re the spirits who own this place. They were here before, you see. We try to avoid them. We thought they were avoiding us as well.”
Suddenly the wind changed. It wasn’t a subtle change, at least not for Lisa, as lose strands of hair from her ponytail all began to flap the other way. The wind was cold, coming from the north, but too cold for this time of year and day. Lisa shivered.
Isleen squeaked again. “It’s the Executioner!”
“What?” Lisa asked. “No, it’s just the wind.” Nobody could make the wind change course, could they? But the fairies weren’t listening. They scattered, leaving Lisa alone, looking around for whoever this Executioner might be.
Realizing she still had the bag of feed in her hand, and that it was still half-full, she spilled the contents on the ground and tossed the empty bag in the trashcan nearby. She rubbed her arms as the cold wind continued to assail her, and walked towards the street outside the tiny park. She knew where to find Isleen and her friends later, if they survived the day.
But once on the sidewalk, she hesitated. She’d been given the Eye by Duke Alfarell for a reason, hadn’t she? He’d known something about this Executioner, and she’d bet her next paycheck that the Duke had been killed by him. “Duke… why was a Duke in Exile?” she wondered. Eldrex would know, but she didn’t know where to find him.
She felt a shiver, of the kind some people said meant a ghost had walked through you. The thought was discouraging. She had enough elves and fairies and Executioners to deal with already. She looked around, but stayed by the gates of the Capilla, taking refuge in the sliver of shade it provided.
There was movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she tried to focus on it, it escaped her. She knew something had moved right past her, no more than a foot beside her. But she had the Eye inside her shirt, she should be able to see whatever it was.
Nobody sees the Executioner, Isleen had said. Lisa reached into her shirt and pulled out the Eye, letting it rest on the front of her shirt.
She saw him, standing in the middle of the park looking unassuming. The monster no longer looked like one. He looked like any other white tourist in the city of Old San Juan, wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt that would make him stand out and blend in at the same time. Lisa began to shiver again, though the cold air had passed. She knew now what she had seen at the café, though not why.
Fear gripped her senses and she began to run away from the park, wanting nothing more than to stay away from that man, even if he no longer looked like a creature made of darkness. She could never forget that negative image, jaws gaping at her. The image so overwhelmed her that she didn’t see the homeless man until it was too late. She ran right into him, but they didn’t fall. His arms were strong and they sought to hold her. She screamed and pushed away from him, chest heaving from exertion. “Give me the Eye, girl!” the stranger said.
“Eldrex!” Lisa exclaimed, grabbing onto the stone that was still hanging in plain view. Quickly she stuffed it into her shirt and took off, quickly turning into the next cross-street.
She didn’t stop running until she reached the town square. It was as she’d expected it—hot, sun-drenched, with an artisan’s display booth on one end, and a protestant preacher on the other. She stopped in the center of the square to catch her breath. Her ponytail had come completely undone, leaving her hair hanging damply over her shoulders. She ran her fingers through it, pulling it sharply away from her face.
Someone touched her arm, startling a squeak out of her. “Are you all right?” a well-meaning stranger asked.
Lisa nodded, too breathless to speak. She wanted to go home, but the safety she expected to find there would be fleeting. Who’s to say Eldrex wouldn’t be able to follow her there, break into her home and steal the Eye?
Shaking, she walked to the coffee stand on one of the plaza’s corners, and bought some hard candy to suck on. The realization that this was breakfast brought on a deeper weariness, weakness buzzing at her brain. But she couldn’t sit still for coffee and toast. She didn’t think she could stomach real food yet. She had to think.
Eldrex wanted the Eye, which made Lisa wonder what other powers the gem had. In the short experience she’d had with it, all she’d been able to do was see what Eldrex presumably saw unaided. Or perhaps it was merely important because it had belonged to the Duke. Either way, she wasn’t giving it up.
The Executioner hadn’t seen her, or at least, hadn’t seemed to pay any attention to her at the park. There was a chance he had no knowledge of the Eye either, since he hadn’t taken it from Alfarell. But then, who was he?
Isleen thought he’d been sent by the Biarakú. The word sounded Taíno to Lisa, and she didn’t think the ancient Caribbean native spirits would hire an Anglo hitman, not even just in appearance.
“Hire an immortal to kill an immortal,” she whispered thoughtfully. If this was the logical conclusion, then what chance did Lisa have of making any difference? Who’s to say she wasn’t meant to stay out? By Isleen’s own admission, the island was a fairy prison, so these people were probably not saints.
Even knowing that, she knew the Executioner was evil. She’d seen his true nature. She didn’t care who had sent him or why, she knew he should never have come. If he’d come from anywhere at all, it had to be Hell.
So she had to do something to send him back there.
“Hire an immortal to kill an immortal,” she repeated as she left the square.
“The Executioner kills the Duke. An immortal must kill the Executioner,” she added, her pace quickening. “But the immortals can’t see him.” Her voice rose with each statement, a hopeful and determined smile growing on her face. “But maybe the dead can!” she cried as she remembered a story from the island’s past. She didn’t know how the idea had occurred to her, but there it was, just waiting to be made reality.
She didn’t know anything about spirits or ghosts or any of that John Edward stuff, but somehow she’d gained a new clarity of thought as she raced back to the Capilla. Nothing seemed crazy or ridiculous to her anymore. ‘Normal’ was no longer an absolute.
The Executioner saw her at the same time she saw him. She knew it was a coincidence. He wasn’t hunting her. But she had the Eye in her hand, holding it carefully and tightly in her fist by the thong, her skin avoiding direct contact with the stone. She had no way of knowing if Isleen and her friends were anywhere nearby, or if Eldrex lurked just around the corner.
It wasn’t important, not at this moment. She held up her hand, the green stone catching the sunlight and flashing it back at the Executioner. Barely even aware of the people all around her, she began to call out as loud as she could. “¡Urayoán! ¡El Español es mortal! He must be killed like Salcedo!”
Nothing happened and the Executioner stared at her with a puzzled, and amused, frown. She blinked and looked down, feeling her cheeks grow hot. That had been silly, hadn’t it? There probably were no Taíno ghosts hanging around the capital city. And even if there were, how could she assume that they could hear her call, or see the monster? Maybe they were like the elves and fairies, blinded to its evil. But she could see him, and now he was walking towards her.
She gasped and took a step back.
Right into Eldrex’s arms. “You’re not getting away this time,” he growled in her ear.
Lisa no longer feared the elf. Her eyes were on the Executioner, and suddenly she did see him as what he really was, a black void with fire for eyes. “Neither are you,” she said to Eldrex. She held the Eye out of Eldrex’s reach, with the same hand pointing at the Executioner. “¡Urayoán!” she cried again, clutching the gem in her hand. With the elf-vision the monster faded almost to nothing, but she managed to hold onto her image of him, moving closer, pushing the air out of his way, bringing the cold with him. “¡Es Salcedo! ¡Es Salcedo!” She continued to shout the names of the ancient chieftain and the Spanish invader, gripping the Eye so tightly she felt it tear her skin. Eldrex still tried to get her to give it up. Either he couldn’t see the Executioner or didn’t care.
“¡Suéltame!” she screamed, breaking free but for the arm that held the Eye. Eldrex slapped her across the face and she stumbled, the gem dropping from her hand, but not before she caught sight of the Executioner, holding aloft a large crossbow, aiming it at the elf.
Vision overlapped vision, details only visible when mixed. Without the Eye, he was just another tourist strolling down the street. “Eldrex! Watch out!” she called, crawling quickly towards the dropped Eye. Incredibly, Eldrex was still intent on possessing it. Lisa kicked him out of the way, hitting him on the arm out of pure luck, and closed her hand around the Eye. She could see the Executioner again as she stood upright. Her heart racing, she faced him, even though that crossbow bolt was dangerously close. “Stop!” she said.
She stared right into that endless void unblinking. He stopped, but it didn’t seem like he would make a habit of listening to her any more today. “Out of the way, mortal, this doesn’t concern you,” he said, his voice like the rumbling of stone deep under the earth. Somehow he knew she could really see him, and didn’t care.
“So I’ve been told,” she said. “But you’re wrong.”
Her heartbeat skipped then resettled, this time with excitement more so than fear as she saw the wraiths begin to take shape behind the Executioner. “You should know better than to mess with a pissed-off Puerto Rican,” she said, smiling wryly.
Four Taíno Indians barely dressed in loincloths and decorated for war gathered around the monster, lifting him up as if he weighed nothing. The Executioner struggled, yelling in confusion and fear, but his struggles were to no avail.
Lisa heard Eldrex swear behind her.
“Come,” she said, no longer afraid of him. She followed the four Indians and their charge down to the city gates, where they crossed the walkway and stepped through the stone railing like the ghosts they were. When they reached the shore they dropped the Executioner into the ocean and held him down. “They will watch him for days, to make sure he’s really dead,” she said, remembering the old tale about how the natives proved the Spaniards were mortal after all. She glanced at Eldrex, who looked more perplexed than she’d ever thought she’d see him. “You can tell your friends the Biarakú saved your lives.”
After a long bath and a good night’s sleep, Lisa couldn’t even begin to say things had returned to normal. She felt fine, but she didn’t feel like she had before her adventure. She still felt adrift, floating in between two worlds and unable to take hold of either one. She’d come to the city wall to breathe the salty air as she’d done two interminable days ago. The only tangible difference was that she was holding the Eye in her hand. She looked down at it, sighed, then held out her hand. All she had to do was throw the stone into the ocean and be done with this madness.
“Now why would you want to do that?” Isleen asked, coming to settle next to her on the stone wall.
Lisa shrugged. “What else am I supposed to do? Keep dodging Eldrex and fighting evil hitmen from Hell on my time off?” Her accomplishment in the matter was marred by the questions left behind. Who had sent the Executioner and why? No one had the answers.
Isleen giggled. “It wouldn’t be boring, at least. Besides, Eldrex won’t be bothering you anymore. You saved his life. He owes you, big time.”
“He’s nothing but a bum,” Lisa said, bitterness crawling into her voice as she watched the dance of the waves. “And I’m standing here talking to a pigeon,” she added, holding the gem by the string and glancing at Isleen’s bird seeming.
The bird pecked Lisa’s hand.
“Ow! You little bitch!” Lisa said, grabbing the Eye again and glaring at the fairy.
“You should know by now not to judge a pigeon by her feathers. Besides, we can’t talk if you throw away the Eye.”
Lisa sighed, arching a brow at the fairy. “Fine. I’ll keep it. For now anyway.”
“Nope. That look might work coming from puppies, but the sad-fairy face is powerless against me.” She hung the Eye around her neck and stuffed it finally into her shirt. Then she glanced at Isleen and began to laugh. She may or may not be completely off-her-rocker crazy, but life would definitely be more interesting from now on.