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What is growing inside m.., p.1
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       What Is Growing Inside Maria, p.1

           Heidi King
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What Is Growing Inside Maria

  What is Growing in Maria: A Game of Psychological Horror You Will Lose

  Copyright © 2014 by Heidi King

  * * * * *

  Prologue – Patrick (The Owner)

  I remember thinking I’d be completely fucked if my cell phone battery expired. I’d be halfway up the hill, blind and alone in the jungle. The dying glow of my cell made every twisted root look like a jumping pit viper. I wiped the screen on my jeans and held the phone up again. I was in disbelief. The sign should have read The Lost and Found Cloud Forest Hostel, $12 dorm beds. The sign had been painted over in black and with dripping red lettering that read; All here is lost. But here all can be found.

  I have been asked about this night so many times that I’m not sure if I am really remembering the details or just remembering telling the story. Like the dull moments that would have drifted away forever were it not for the fact that a great tragedy occurred, like how you remember where you were during 9-11. I would just as soon let these moments drift away into the gardens of forgotten memories. But sometimes they ask you to hop the fence to look into the darkest parts of this garden among the twisted roots. And sometimes they make you take a shovel.

  My repainted sign told me that this would not be a homecoming. My visit was unannounced – just a quick in and out on my way to the islands to pick up a rain jacket I had left behind. I guess it didn’t really matter what the new managers did, as long as they weren’t late with their lease payments and Tripadvisor reviews were positive. I made my way up the trail humming Tom Waits’ Gods Away on Business, and thinking about exerting at least some authority by changing the music in the bar. Maybe if Matt wasn’t around I would break out the Jim Beam and offer Maria a few on the house and get the scoop on things.

  When I approach the fork in the path between the forest reserve and the hostel I expected to hear music and see the lights. There was nothing but a thick blanket of fog that seemed to soak up all sound and light. I went directly to the bar and discovered it locked. I put my ear to the door and I swore I could hear whispers. If there had been anyone inside, they stopped when they heard me approach.

  When I walked by Rocky’s cage, our resident kinkajou jumped an inch from my head. A classic attack when he feels neglected. When I turned on the lights of the main area I saw they had completely repainted. The gold beetles, butterflies and lizards that we had painted were covered with hieroglyphs and cryptic symbols. At least the kitchen was clean.

  Along the stairs leading down to the office and reception area was a small mural with one of those Egyptian all seeing eyes. I went down to check the white board where we list which rooms are occupied. I flicked on the switch and saw that the board was completely empty. They hadn’t had a guest in days. I decided right then and there that when the one year lease expired I would retake my hostel. I began erasing the board with the damp cuff of my shirt. Suddenly I heard breathing behind me and I froze. From the corner of my eye I saw a dark shadow sitting at the table. I silently turned to face the solitary figure.

  It was Steve, one in the group of six, who was leasing my hostel. He was just staring at his right hand. I stood there for a moment just watching. Anyone conscious would have been aware of me. But then Steve Banks was a whack job, the comic relief, caricature of himself. I assumed he was stoned on Valium or Xanax.

  I stood a few feet from him and positioned myself to see what he was staring at. It appeared he had drawn a tiny snake with a black pen on the palm of his hand. His eyes were open and eerily darting back and forth, like he was sleeping with his eyes open. I reached out to touch his shoulder but out of the blue I heard an urgent whisper: “Don’t touch him!” I spun around and saw the man they called Dr. Mike standing in the doorway. He frantically waved me outside.

  “You must not wake him,” he whispered when we were out on the main terrace “He is in a deep sleep. He is a somnambulist in the middle of a lucid dream.” I remember he held my arm as he talked either as a gesture of urgency or feigned familiarity.

  He slowly pulled his thin wire frames off and began cleaning them while he smiled at me. “You are the famous Patrick,” he said. “It’s so nice to speak with you finally. You must be proud. This is a wonderful place.” He sat down and rested his John Lennon rip off glasses on his large stomach and ran both hands through his graying hair. This was the first time I met the supposed psychologist and it’s hard to remember now if I really distrusted him on our first meeting or if events since have distorted my memory. The truth is, I don’t remember what we talked about. I can only guess, or would like to think, that even on my first meeting with him I detected condescension in his voice as he explained to me the process of lucid dreaming and how taking control of your unconscious allows you take control of your reality. I think I was just worried about my hostel. That and I wanted to see Maria.

  During a pause in his soliloquy I went to the laundry room and dug through a box. Dr. Mike only raised his voice and followed. I pulled out my red rain jacket and put it on. I was trying to shake him by going into the kitchen and grabbing a beer. I asked if there was a list to mark the beer I was about to drink and he gave me a look like he was confounded that I would talk about something in the middle of a lecture about Carl Jung and unlocking the collective unconscious. I tried to escape to the far side to the terrace where guests usually sat and absorbed the views of Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest point. Tonight you couldn’t see more than twenty or thirty feet through the fog and it was rolling in thicker and thicker. You could, however, see the main dorm building below that I had once planned to be nothing but a big second terrace. At the last minute I decided it would be better to build more dorm space so the stairs that were to lead down to the terrace led to the outer wall of the main dorm.

  But this night the steps did not lead down to the wall. They led to an elevator; an old fashioned elevator with an iron-gate door. A rush of the surreal came over me. It was like that dream; a mundane dream where everything is normal except in this dream your bedroom has a new door. A door at the back of the closet you never knew was there and it seemed to be calling you. Here was one in front of me and oddly I found myself wishing I could enter.

  Mike followed me as I went right up to elevator to reassure myself that it was indeed a well painted mural and not a hallucination. On closer inspection I could see that a panel of buttons had been painted with three floors, The Lost and Found, The Valley, and The Lost Mine. Mike must have sensed my discomfort with the changes and started a lecture about the local mythology of the nearest town, Valle de la Mina. “The town was named after a mine, that may or may not exist,” he said. “The fabled mine may have actually been classic misdirection. A man who had discovered the gold planted the idea that there was a mine and locals wanted to believe it. In fact, the gold the man was extracting may have actually come from the graves of pre-Columbian Indians.”

  I used the bathroom as an excuse and finally got rid of Dr. Mike. On my way to the toilets I saw that a tree that I had never really noticed until now had a light switch on it. I flipped the switch and immediately beams of green light shot up at the trees in the distance, eradiating the heavy fog slowly drifting past. The cable that was connected to the switch led up into the tress and down to a vast area I had never been – a neglected area where large patches of beautiful heliconia flowers grew wild. I tried to follow the cable that zigzagged between trees but after several meters I was stopped by a dense wall of plants. When I tried to crawl through, I discovered that there was also chicken wire strung up to block anyone from entering whatever area was behind the wall. I followed this wall of plants a few dozen meters, almost to
the opposite side until I saw a sign with a single word and an arrow pointing to an opening in the wall of plants. Labyrinth, it read. Like the dream with the new door, this labyrinth somehow called me in. But this time I really could enter.

  Immediately I got turned around. I hit a dead end, and then the maze spat me out again. I don’t remember why I felt compelled to solve the riddle of the labyrinth when my hostel seemed to be transforming into a dark, parallel version of itself, but I think my intuition told me I would find answers at the end. It seemed as though I had walked down the same row for the tenth time and I stopped in frustration. But then I looked up and noticed and noticed something that told me I was actually on a new passageway. There, above me, words had been engraved into a tree.

  All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks, in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.

  It was at that instant that I heard it. At first I thought it was a wild animal. But I listened intently and could hear it was methodic. After a moment I was sure is was the sound of digging. “Hello,” I called out a couple of times but there was no answer but the sound continued – – a dull repetitive slicing of shovel into moist earth.

  The twists and turns of the maze were exasperating but I was determined to reach the source of the noise. Then all at once I turned into a small clearing and saw Maria, completely naked. Her skin was ghostly white in the green lights that lit the labyrinth. Even then she was beautiful. She kept digging a small hole, oblivious to my presence. I walked up to her and said,

  “Maria,” and gently touched her elbow. I startled her. She jerked forward, towards me and tripped backwards into the hole she had been digging. I felt a deep chill and dark sense that I broken something I wasn’t supposed to touch. She squinted at me.

  “Matt?” she murmured.

  “No,” I said slowly.

  She looked disappointed. “Why are you digging?” I asked.

  She hesitated and looked around. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Where am I?”

  Suddenly she stood straight up in the shallow hole and began frantically wiping the palm of her hand as though she were looking for some kind of answer there. She stopped just as quickly and raised her hand slowly to allow the light to catch some kind of symbol drawn on the palm of her hand. I saw her eyes widen in abject terror as if she was watching her own shocking death on the palm of her hand. I think she stopped breathing. Her mouth was wide open like she wanted to scream. She looked down at her body. She began running her hands up her bare thighs to her vagina. I saw something odd there and Maria’s expression changed from horror to disgust, like she was about to vomit.

  I tried to grasp what could possibly be protruding from between her legs. It slowly started oozing out covered in blood. It dropped to the ground. It was a bulbous vial full of what must have only been blood.

  Her eyes looked like they would bulge out of the sockets. She collapsed in a hysterical fit and began to scream. I reached down to comfort her but she only screamed louder, transgressing into semi-coherent ranting in English and Spanish. “Rip the zipper, separate my flesh, fuck me, she won’t be born… yellow, yellow, yellow fucking teeth!” Over and over again convulsing wildly until all at once she passed out. I wrapped her in the red rain jacket I had come to The Lost and Found for. Suddenly Mike appeared out of the dark gloom and in a flurry of movement he scooped Maria up and whisked her into the passages of the labyrinth. A bizarre satyr carrying a limp maiden into the night best describes the unreal image etched into my eyes.

  “Did Dr. Mike try to draw a symbol on your hand? Where was Matt? Was it a syringe?” Over and over I would be asked these same questions by my friends, the families, the Panamanian police, but most of all I questioned myself. Over and over again, while I tried to forget, while I literally washed the splattered blood to remove all signs of the sick horror at The Lost and Found. I want to put this to rest and move on with my life even if I can never return to a completely normal life. So once and for all I am going to plunge into the dark corners of the garden of my memories. In the following pages I use the words of those involved; the blogs, the emails and personal diaries and when I have to; my words. With these pages I take the shovel and I will bury this tragedy forever. This is what happened.

  Get Out If You Can!

  By Dr. Michael Anderson

  My hotel concierge warned me not to look for her. She was in what he described as a somewhat sordid area of Panama City. I did my best to take his advice. But I couldn’t get my needs satisfied through traditional means. I was desperate. I was told I could find her in Chinatown.

  The actual street is called Salsipuedes. Seventeenth Century maps of Old Panama show that this street bore the same name then as it does now. But it is not so much a name as a warning: Salsipuedes literally means Get Out If You Can. And ‘street’ is a bit of a misnomer… Salsipuedes is more of a labyrinth of contradiction. There are wooden kiosks selling almost everything - from hand woven textiles and cheap leather to electronics and decades old romance novels. National Geographic magazines from the 50’s sit beside porn from the 80’s. It was on Salsipuedes, I was certain, that I would find her – the Voodoo priestess of former dictator/CIA informant turned drug kingpin, General Manuel Noriega.

  It is easy to miss the dark and narrow opening of the street. You are likely to continue along Avenida Central to Parque Santa Ana, one of Panama’s more colorful areas and overlooked attractions. Here you can see Kuna Indians in their colorful traditional dress feeding squadrons of hungry pigeons as diablos rojos roar by. If you have a seat near the gazebo facing the landmark Café Coca-Cola you will see old rail tracks that lead down to the colonial white-washed neighborhood of Casco Viejo. But if you hang a right by mistake, you enter the real area of danger -- the poverty stricken, violent neighborhood of Chorillo. But past the dangerous barrio, only a few hundred meters further and over a barbed wired fence, there is a pleasant green neighborhood that looks like small town America. In fact, until very recently, it was American territory - the Panama Canal Zone.

  The U.S. invasion of Panama was less of an invasion than an expensive manhunt with heavy firepower. Bullet holes scar the dark, ominous high-rises of Chorillo -- vestiges from when the US came to look for Noriega at the Comandancia, his fortified headquarters. But he was already on the run.

  Uncle Sam’s boys continued their search at his officer’s club, beach home and luxury houses. Each place they destroyed when they discovered he was not there. Panama has left them in ruins as a kind of way to flip him the bird. The officers’ club in Casco Viejo, however, was temporarily used as a location for a party hosted by a Bond villain in the movie Quantum of Solace.

  At one of his luxury homes they found some peculiar items. According to U.S. military reports, Noriega left behind porn, a portrait of Hitler, an assortment of books, beads, stones, cocaine, a Rosicrucian portrait of Jesus, plaster statues, dried food "offerings" and an altar made by his Brazilian Voodoo priestess. They also found a freezer full of voodoo candles. Each bundle of candles was wrapped in a piece of paper with one of his enemy’s names on it. His enemies included Dick Cheney, then the US Secretary of Defense, and the President, George Bush Sr., with whom Noriega was connected through the C.I.A (Noriega was a paid informant when Bush was the Director of the C.I.A.) If the candles were meant to somehow bring these adversaries down, they failed, as most of these politicians or their sons made great comebacks. Many of Noriega’s items can still be purchased today, a short distance from his headquarters -- in that esoteric maze of ‘Salsipuedes’.

  Noriega left behind his voodoo and his voodoo priestess in his time of trouble and literally turned to the Church. He had been hiding at the Vatican Embassy when American G.I.s set up across the street where Multi Centro, a huge Colombian owned shopping mall, now sits. The Americans didn’t fire guns at the Embassy of the Holy See but rather blasted Guns a
nd Roses´. Noriega eventually had enough of Welcome to the Jungle, and surrendered.

  With Noriega behind bars in Florida, the Americans had no interest in his Brazilian "mama," or priestess. But I had to find her.

  My desperation came three days after island hopping in Bocas Del Toro. An excruciating rash had turned up on my calves and ankles. I went to three pharmacies. Usually, even if they don’t know what you have, the pharmacists sell you some kind of mysterious drug. One pharmacist swore that my rash was actually the result of insect bites, but still, none of the pharmacists offered any kind of remedy. After a week, I was starting to lose my mind. A friend suggested that I go to ‘Salsipuedes,’ so I left my watch at home, took only a copy of my passport, mustered up some courage, and ventured into the crowded alleyway.

  Before I arrived at La Tienda Esoterica, I could smell the incense drifting down the street. Inside my eyes took time to adjust to the darkness, but they finally wrapped around angelic statues of The Virgin Mary sitting next to dark clay skulls. Penthouse magazines next to Good Housekeeping.

  I understood that Salsipuedes is not a large scale voodoo shop. There isn’t any one dogma unifying things – there is as much Catholic as there is Santería. And the list doesn’t end there: experts say that many of Noriega’s possessions were not Voodoo or Santería, but a product of Mexican black folk art called Brujería – Witchcraft.

  And then I saw her. Her black face remained hidden among the hundreds of smoke-stained, angry-faced idols. Only its size announced that it was human. The lines around her eyes and deep jowls told me she was old enough to be Noriega’s priestess. I imagined on my way over that I might ask about the former general but now I dared not. Like many of the Afro-Antilleans in Panama, the woman spoke English. I told her I had a rash, and without telling her more she asked me to lift up my pant legs. Her eyes widened at the sight and she gasped. “Do you have money?” she asked. I showed her.

  “I have just what you need,” she said with a thick Caribbean accent. Without expression she forcefully took my arm and pulled me into a dusty, damp side room filled with oils and dried herbs. She transformed from ominous sentinel of occult idols to eager servant. She stepped onto a ladder and started pulling things frantically from high off the shelf. Soon, she was crushing seeds and plants in a ceramic bowl, using a crucible. I sat in silence as she boiled tea, added the leaves to the tincture, and mixed in various other oils.

  When her elixir was finished, she had me place my feet in a large metal bowl. Then she lit a bundle of wild grass and blew the sweet smelling smoke at my ankles, feet and legs. She got down on her hands and knees, prostrated herself in front of me and began chanting in a language I couldn’t recognize. I closed my eyes. I respected the seriousness by which the shaman did her work. She massaged the natural medicine everywhere below my knees- even through my toes. It brought instant relief.

  I lost track of time… I started to doze but she woke me with the sharp chime of a small cymbal. I put my shoes and socks on. She gave me a bottle of what she had created and told me to rub it on my legs four times a day and leave it on. “Must not wash!”

  Despite the street name’s warning, I escaped Salsipuedes without incident and returned home cautiously optimistic. Three days later my legs were silky smooth. The medicine woman succeeded where the pharmacists failed. A few weeks later, when I ran into my friend that recommended that I go to Salsipuedes, I thanked her.

  “I’m glad the oil helped with the bites,” she said.

  “Bites? No, not bites. That’s what the pharmacist thought too, but this was some kind of mysterious rash.”

  “What? No, no, no. You were bitten by chitras, sand flies. They hang out on tropical islands and get you when your legs are under the shade of the table. They are so small you never see them… they’re sometimes called no-see-ums. You don’t feel them for a few days, but if they get you badly, they burrow under the skin, pop out later and bite again. There is no way to get rid of them except coconut oil… it drowns them when they pop out.”

  “But the shaman cast out the evil… she put a lot more in than just coconut oil - I saw her…”

  “Oh. Hmm. How much did you pay for the shamanic healing?”

  “Oh. Ahhhhh. Twenty dollars or something like. Something like that…. Sixty-two ninety-five!”

  O.K. I must confess- I am not so naïve. I am what many consider a kind of voodoo priest, one of the few remaining Jungian psychoanalysts. My real fault is one I make often in Panama – I forget to negotiate the price first. But, in the end, I paid to experience a dying art that maybe should live on: the combination of faith and medicine. Shamans play a significant role in societies because of their ability to elicit hope using both religion and medicine.

  And so, for me ‘Get out if you can,’ has taken a new meaning. Every time I return to Salsipuedes, I see something new. I can’t seem to ever really get out, I guess. Maybe that is the real meaning behind the street’s name.

  Perhaps Noriega’s flight from the American military manhunt was telling… when on the run he left the paraphernalia from the black arts behind, ran into the Embassy of the Holy-See and surrendered. The flight to Christ continued. In the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Dade County, Florida, Manuel Noriega has surrendered again – this time he surrendered his soul to Jesus Christ. He has been baptized as a born again Christian. He is still awaiting a hearing in France to decide what will happen to his living mortal coil. Perhaps his conversion is in earnest. But if not, Get Out If You Can, Manuel. And if you do, I will see you on Salsipuedes. Please introduce me to your Voodoo priestess.

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