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It is odd for a man to set out into the unknown, to not know the great space that lies unexplored in front of him; especially if it is the vast scale of an ocean that stretches to some unknown distance. To not know what lies ahead, what fortunes, what fares and what dangers that he can find on the far side of a dead world. And this thought, perhaps fear of the unknown is what drives him onboard a ship and sets out to make the unknown known, to settle or confirm his fears. And to those left behind he is ever gone.
Velasco had seen many souls leave the port of Rubacava; men, women and children depart from known land to unknown waves and to the Far Side of the World from which no ship had ever returned. Not because some danger of the deeps had brought the ships down into the black oblivion of the Sea of Lament; no instead because once a man reached the shores of Puerto Zapato there was promise of escape from the Land of the Dead; somewhere in the bitter cold traps of the ice-fields that covered a far place was a way out. The Gate to the Ninth Underworld.
Velasco did not see it as a saviour, yet he did not deny its existence as some of the other souls in this port did. He had lived in this world long enough to see what it did to the once Living, man squabbled his position in this dead society as women and children who he had once loved rode silver trains out of this world. Love, as Manny liked to say, was for the Living. And so Velasco saw it was true; once blood and flesh was ripped from the soul, eyes and mouths no longer able to lie- true intentions were revealed. Love was cast to the dust in exchange for freedom, and so lovers split, families divided; leaving the apparently morally bankrupt behind, leaving them.
Two years ago Velasco had stood where he stood now, the empty gate locked as it had been since then. He had observed the crude workmanship of Chowchilla Charlie on Manny’s Union Card, known the disturbance down on the docks between the Bees had probably been of Manny’s doing; yet would Calavera go so far as to kill an innocent man just to get onboard the creaking S.S Limbo? Manny was not a simple cardboard character, he was a man of depth, Velasco had seen it in him the moment he had first properly laid eyes on him. Something haunted all men, as it haunted Manny- a woman. He had asked about the woman Mercedes- names were not so good on Velasco’s memory any more. He had asked about a woman, and had continually hung around the docks, waiting each night; even when he had become a success in Rubacava and taken under the wing of crime-lord Maximino, to see it she had been…or perhaps if she would come. And she did come, Velasco remembered it well; a flash of Manny’s white suit as he dashed passed Velasco to run to the boarding ramp of the S.S Lambada. He of course ended up in the ‘drink’ again, it was only later after the sun broke that night that so much happened so soon, Velasco worked out Manny’s motives. Love was for the Living, Manny may have said these words, but he himself didn’t believe them. His woman had come and gone.
Velasco huddled closer to his pipe, sitting in his small shack on the deserted dock, he watched the silence of the port and could hear high above his small world, the thriving world of gangsters, of mobs, of the crowds who couldn’t realise that their own chances of escape were slowly sifting away. Drawn into the scent of wines, the sweet tastes of victory in the casinos and on the tracks and of course the ruthless and almost romantic world of crime that had engulfed Rubacava in its overbearing shadow. By day the town was cast in a dead light, the aftermath of some terrible party that had ravaged the streets and left its remains in every corner, by night the town lit up and those wicked lights and laughter dominated the stars. Oh, how long had it been since Velasco had seen the stars?
Everyone had left him alone on this dock, The Lamancha, his sweet lady of steel had long sailed out of Rubacava and where her heart lay he did not know, all his former sailors had long boarded ships to find some hope of heaven in this wretched place and Manny Calavera had taken his chance; resisted the urges of success that came to him almost as if something, unknown and all-knowing, had guided him to his destiny beyond the horizon. In truth Velasco feared that horizon, feared the unknown, feared his destiny, for he knew as a mortal man that he one day must die; and here in the place they called the Land of the Dead, that he must also die. Either from the deadly floral ensnares released from its bullet-shaped prison or he like his friend Manny must take the step aboard a ship and sail to the ends of the earth, to find death. Or heaven, or at least an end.
And he would have no-one, save his Lamancha, to leave-
Placing the cold bottle containing the S.S Lumbago on his small desk, he looked out at that foreboding horizon, the moon’s light behind him glinting across the surface of the sea and seemingly never ending. He always also found it strange that as he stared up at the moon, its face stared at him as he must also stare down at Manny Calavera; wherever he maybe. Perhaps unheard whispered words the moon could hear and pass on to Manny…but that was a fool’s tale. The moon was a devil to a sailor, with an ever-changing face and a light to dull the light of the stars; yet not so in the viciousness of the lights of Rubacava. The spikes of neon that glared from the port pierced and blinded the stars, and the town was devoid of Heaven’s Light, festering in its own darkness. In the distance, on that horizon, Velasco thought he saw a shooting star fall from that forgotten heaven and into the sea.
Perhaps one day he would leave, he would leave and leave no trace of his being there at all. His small shack would be ripped down or left to decay like Calavera’s Café. The building now stood derelict, the windows boarded up, the A from his name lying in the dust upon the uncarpeted steps, yet it still stood up there. When the sun peaked, Velasco could see its distant shadow on the cliff; almost like a monument to the man Calavera. At night, it was lost to the darkness. Yet darkness and night brought dreams, and even in the hollow space of Velasco’s skull; he dreamed. He dreamed of an island, far away from this place, shrouded in a veil of mist, every haunted by the nearby skull, and there he owned a house, old and derelict and near the dead. He was lonely, a constant reminder of destiny as his only guest, yet once a night, the blood of that island would rise up and erupt in a chorus of fire and stone and fall upon the island. In this dead land, such a thing had never been seen together, the life of fire- the dead of stone.
Velasco stood now to look at that horizon, how strange, how odd, to go forward from this place where he had been for so long, to seem so ancient as a tree that never moves from its place and while knows the land around its roots, will never know the fields beyond, or the fields beyond those fields. And what would drive him over those fields? The longing to escape? The need to find something-
Yes, that would coax him from his cold shack, his cold bed, his idle waiting by the sea.
The need to find love. As Manny had.
He felt a presence behind him, a forgotten familiar presence, a shadow that this dock had once worn.
He turned to see the man.
The man he thought, long gone.
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