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There is shit out there that you do not want to disturb. I barely skimmed it and now I’m seriously considering getting medical help.
The granular details of how I ended up in the middle of a remote Cuban village staring at a boarded up shack are boring and unnecessary, but I’ll fill you in on the basics.
I’m Malcolm, and with my girlfriend Claire, and a few of our friends – Mike, Marie his girlfriend, and Marie’s cousin Emily, we all went on this vacation because I’ve been stressed out, and more importantly, fuck winter - especially in Toronto, Canada.
Resort packages in Cuba are cheap, so we go there – the resort is awesome, the food was kinda bland but overall it was fine. We get bored there after about a week so we take a bus tour of the island. True fear is riding a bus from the 1950s overlooking cliffs.
One thing led to another and we befriended a family on our last stop in a Cantina. The only thing worthy of mentioning is Marie accidentally ordering a live chicken in broken Spanish. The family invited us to their home to visit – the grandpa Alex, and his Grandson Juan speak broken English but we get along just fine. I almost can’t believe three generations live on this farm. My apartment feels full with just me and Claire.
This brings us to the story. There was a shack – a weird looking shack that looked like it had been boarded up from the inside. Compared to the rest of this natural paradise Alex noticed I was staring at it while the girls were busy admiring Cuban summer dresses, and Mike had found a squirmy little friend inside a bottle of Tequila with Juan. Alex asked me in broken English if I believed in God. I replied that no, I believed in science. He gave me a sigh and then motioned to the shack.
It was going to be a goat’s head. I just knew it. TV had prepared me and like a white guy in a horror movie I walk right into the damn thing. No fear, no hesitation, no brains.
TV didn’t disappoint; the boards weren’t actually boards though, but drapes that let a dim amount of light in. The smell of meat came from inside – but it was musty and old – kind of like rustic. The walls were lined with religious paraphernalia, a mixture of what looked like catholic symbols like crosses but herbs and plants all over the place. Candles surrounded what looked like an altar and an ancient looking tome – the words “Santa Biblia” ran down the spine in faded letters.
“Santaria” was what Alex said. He motioned around him and then to his chest. “Believe. I believe.”
I didn’t want to tell him to his face that religion was a crock of shit – his in particular. I wasn’t religious but I wasn’t ignorant – Santaria had come from a mix of African and Catholic religions. Catholicism on its own came from Christianity and Pagan religions mixing, so how could this possibly be "holy"? A little logic goes a long way. I shrugged and kept quiet, but Alex seemed to notice I didn’t believe either.
“You, no believe God?”
I shook my head. “No proof.”
“Proof in corazon.” He reached out and put his hand over my chest where my heart was. I could tell he was just passionate about his beliefs. That or I was about to need an adult. “Believe. Very strong. Very power.”
It took me a moment, but I understood what he meant. “You mean belief is powerful?”
It made sense, but then again, another look around showed me a Goat Skull with a Candle on it, an Ankh, another two crosses and what looked like hookah pipes. It was almost like a mishmash of whatever he could scrounge together. I felt bad for the goat. “I understand, I just don’t agree. I’d sooner believe in aliens.”
“No anger,” Alex said suddenly, putting his other hand on my shoulder. Almost as if he were worried. “Santisimo, no molestes a los dioses.”
All I caught was something about molesting – Fuck. “Uhh yeah. Thank you for sharing, but I’m going to have to pass. No offense.“ I gently moved his hands away – you don’t need an adult when you are one.
Alex muttered a few more words in Spanish before waving me out the door. We walked back to his home in awkward silence, except for when he called Juan over. He rapid-fired a series of Spanish sentences – likely calling me a philistine or heretic or whatever. Juan seemed to be indifferent until near the end, when he gave me a concerned look. Alex walked off without even saying goodbye, but Juan stayed as we stood behind the main home of their family.
Despite him feeling me up, I figured I’d patch things up a bit. “I’m sorry if I offended your Grandfather. I’m just not a believer in hocus pocus.”
“Perdon?” Juan asked. “You not believe, but that does not mean it not true. Santaria is deep magic – holy and unholy power mixed together. Mostly for healing, but is only part of all around us.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Juan also seemed legitimately concerned. “You believe in that stuff?” In my head I went through it all – healing? Maybe a placebo effect.
“Si, but also no,” he replied. “I’m very small. Solo one person. How many on planet?”
“Almost seven billion,” I replied instantaneously. Juan’s confused look told me he didn’t keep up with the latest news. “Okay I get that, one person isn’t much, but that doesn’t prove anything bigger than me exists.”
“Not bigger, inside,” Juan said. “Maybe bigger too, but angering spirits never wise, we do not understand, so we try and keep happy. Abuelo says you mock gods, you risk gran anger.”
I had picked up enough latinesque language to know grande was 16oz or “big”. “That’s fair. I’ll take my chances.” I looked at my watch. “Listen, it’s been truly a pleasure to meet you all, I think you’ve shown me a lot and I appreciate it. Uhh…” I scrambled for words. “Gra-see-as. Pear-don me. Bus will be leaving soon.”
Juan nodded and smirked softly. “Si, your friends are inside. I can lead back to bus.”
He turned and I smirked back at his pronunciation of “boos”. Mike was going to lose his shit at the weirdness of that shack, and Emily and Claire were going to hate that they’d missed it. We said goodbye to everyone except Alex who’d gone off on his own, and Juan led us back to the town square where the bus was now waiting on us. We weren’t the last to come back, and we were thankful that the bus’s AC was on full power.
I was right about Mike and Emily when I told them, but Claire worried for me about what Juan and Alex had said. I didn’t openly mock her when she admitted she didn’t deny the existence of a God, but I sure as hell thought it.
It was a four hour trip back to the resort as it was still mid-afternoon, and we’d all decided to catch a nap as best we could. Winter sucks, but sunburn hurts. I remember Claire resting her head on my shoulder and nuzzling back. We were all tired as hell, and all we wanted was to sleep…
The jolt awake threw me from side to side. Claire let a scream out as she grabbed onto my arm tightly and held on. I gripped the chair as the bus seemed to jump and kick upwards into my spine – people screamed all over and I heard that horrible sound metal makes when it tears apart. Jesus, fuck, we’re all going to die.
The bus came to a violent stop amidst the screams. It was darkening outside now. The adrenaline burning through my veins finally registered as I realized the bus had probably gotten a flat while moving. I looked over to the window – please no cliff, please no cliff…
The bus driver confirmed it a few moments later with a megaphone. Holy crap we were on the edge of a cliff. A lot of the passengers complained, and the tour guides were quick to offer up bottles of water, blankets, anything to get them to shut up. Emily and Marie had panicked just like the rest – while Mike had drunken just enough that he’d more or less slept through the jolt, just waking up when Marie shook him awake. Her cries of "you slept through us nearly dying" was funny in retrospect. I try to find humor in a lot now, it helps.
The driver explained that they had a spare tire, and that there was no danger. The sheer fucking drop only a few meters away from my right on the window said otherwise, but once I burned through the adrenaline it made sense. Just a tire. Just a tire…
Once the tire was changed, we started heading back. I wanted to go back to sleep, but Emily decided to chat instead and turned around on her chair to face me and Claire. She kept going on and on about how we almost died, how it was so scary, and the odds of it happening to us.
The odds were actually pretty good – again in retrospect. The bus was older than my dad, it was a miracle it kept working now that I think about it. I said as much.
Mike laughed and said maybe the Santaria god wanted to give me a warning. Marie smacked him on my behalf, but Emily found it intriguing. She openly wondered what would have happened if we’d been killed, what kind of afterlife there might or might not be, and whether God really did have a hand in what happened in life. I’d have to speak with my attorney about the Jehova’s Witness Protection Program I thought I was in.
It was mindnumbing – I’d thought of Emily as a forward thinking young woman. Now here she was saying that for a few moments during that flat tire – she’d found herself asking God for help. I didn’t want to listen but Claire kept asking me questions and I didn’t want to be the jerkass boyfriend especially after said girlfriend thought she might have gotten hurt. Awkward to me, but the others didn’t seem to mind.
The resort didn’t come into view fast enough. I wanted Rum, papayas, and sleep. In that order. Claire had been twitchy that whole night – I couldn’t blame her. I might have gotten over it quickly but it’s not like I wanted to panic everyone else. She cuddled a lot closer that night – almost as if she wanted to get in me for a change.
I tried not to think about it. But after Emily’s incessant existential questions and discussion, it was hard not to. I stared at the ceiling and asked myself why didn’t I believe in something higher? The universe was large enough to stretch beyond imagination – why was it so hard to believe in a God or a higher power? As weird as it sounds, even the thought of Alien life posing as a god felt right.
Eventually I fell asleep. My dreams were weird and stuttered – flashes of things I didn’t recognize, but I couldn’t remember them when I woke up. Maybe something about that goat skull but whatever. Claire noticed when she woke as well that I looked rough. She said it was reassuring that I was human.
The last few days were fun – not what this is about. Except when Emily and I got stung by jellyfish. As we sat in the room getting vinegar poured on our bites, Emily mentioned that she’d had a bad dream the night before, and all she could remember was a goat skull. I passed it off again, of course she’d have a bad dream after I described the Santaria room to her – It was a freaking goat skull!
When the time finally came for us to go back to the airport, it was an odd welcome. I didn’t feel like I’d overstayed my welcome in Cuba, but it certainly wasn’t the comfort of home. Not to mention that I wouldn’t have to deal with so many passionate crazies, just the normal kind.
When we reached the airport, our flight was delayed as seems usual with airports these days. That’s when we found out – Flight MH370 from Malaysian Airlines had gone missing and nobody had a clue where it had gone. Instantly the girls were giving thoughts to immigrating to Cuba just out of fear – we weren’t on one of the big airline flights as they were too pricey, but at the same time the thought of never having poutine again forced me into action.
I kept trying to reason with them, Cuba to Florida was only a few minutes, if they were that scared than maybe I could stand a finger in a hole if it calmed them down a bit. My humor wasn’t well met and Claire got really angry at me – she said I shouldn’t tempt fate and at the least we should call our parents and family back home so they know what flight we were on.
Eventually our flight arrived – there was some rough weather between the little communist nation and America’s wang but it was nothing the airline was worried about. The constant murmuring and questions about flight MH370 weren’t helping, and I found myself seated next to a very nervous and annoyed girlfriend on the plane.
The takeoff went flawlessly. Despite this, every time we hit some turbulence, I could feel Claire’s hand squeeze mine. It was hard not to argue during the plane trip – all I could do was go over it in my head and constantly remind myself that she didn’t need me to be her logician. If anything she was creeping me out with her behavior.
The much too long plane trip didn’t want to end – again I wanted to sleep but now all I could think about was what those people on MH370 must have felt. The statistics for a crashing plane also came up in my head, or would have if I could have given it more than a best guess. What I did know was that most planes took off with just a little extra fuel than they needed in order to save on weight – a long range trip like this probably didn’t have much extra to begin with. Then came the recollections of old Twilight Zone episodes starting William Shatner, and no matter how hard I tried not to think of if, snakes on a motherfucking plane.
It was torment. The only consolation I had was the in-flight movie, an iPod in my bag that I’d drained to 0%, and finally trying to remember the best parts of old episodes of NOVA. It wasn’t enough.
When we landed in Pearson – I was bloodshot eyes and a pounding headache. Claire had shifted from the annoyed girlfriend to the concerned one and consoled me as best she could. Least she’d gotten some sleep. Mike and Marie were going to get a taxi and give Emily a ride home, that left me and Claire alone as we were finally back home. It was still cold – still snowing for God's sake – but it felt comfortable instead of the sweltering wet heat of Cuba.
The next week went by uneventfully, I went back to work but the events of those last few days kept coming back to me. Anytime I saw an older gentleman, or a cross, or even just heard one of my coworkers mention my trip to Cuba, all I could think about was that goat skull I’d seen in that shack. Thanks to Emily’s incessant talking about it on the bus, and then on the plane, and then over Facebook whenever we got asked about it, it had become lodged in my head to the point where I’d even think about it when I was alone at home. Or with Claire watching a movie. Or riding the bus to work. Or staring at my computer monitor at work.
It was nine days after I got back that it started happening. I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes it was someone down the street who seemed familiar. Or something at work would confuse me and make me do a doubletake, only upon further inspection prove to be nothing. The days weren’t so bad, I could just convince myself I was tired.
The reason I was tired was the really bad part though. I’d find myself going to bed and contemplating existence. I never do that. My dark ceiling would turn into a tapestry for my mind – envisioning a wrathful god, a goat headed cyberdemon, or worst of all, aliens who found humans "interesting" for the wrong reasons – Fuuuuuck my life. Youtube documentaries and Reddit had filled my head with all the right things to make me question everything.
I could swear my senses were being either heightened, or maybe I was just noticing things I never did before. The light beaming in off my apartment window created a shadow on the wall – playing tricks with my imagination as I tried to sleep.
No Mal, that’s not a creepy old guy staring at you and your girlfriend from outside your bedroom window. Why would you think that?
No, no, that is definitely not the sound of a ghost floating through your apartment twisting doorknobs, it’s just temperature change, it’s just this old ass apartment settling, it’s just the wind.
The door was definitely open when you came in. No, no you didn’t notice it was closed and suddenly it’s open, and Claire’s out with a friend. You’re just imagining things.
When I showered, I heard strange noises outside. Never have I held a bottle of shampoo with the thought of using it as makeshift pepperspray. I started keeping a knife in the bathroom "just because". I hid knives throughout the apartment in fact – when Claire asked why I bought a decorative Katana set for the living room, she didn’t believe me when I said I just wanted things to look cool.
I could swear I was being followed, but I knew well enough I wasn’t important enough for someone to tail. I’m a 26 year old guy who works in IT. You can’t get much more boring. Still – I took a different route to get to work on the tenth day, and the eleventh. The only difference it made was in my head but that was enough.
Claire had noticed I was getting paranoid. When she confronted me I talked with her about the weird sensations. She offered me a teddy bear. Fuck, Come on, bae, I’m trying to be serious. Figures all the teasing I do would come back to bite my ass.
Once she realized that I was actually freaking out a bit, she accepted it and tried to help however she could. Not like there was much, but at least now I could show her all my hiding spots in case she had to defend herself. It just felt reassuring to always have a sharp object nearby.
The sensations kept growing though. Now three weeks in and I was losing sleep. Cars passing by were in better definition than ever. I could swear I could tell their make just from their engine noises. Given I’d never worked on cars before, this was alarming to say the least. The creaking in the house wasn’t just the house settling in the night anymore – it was strange footsteps and things moving around. Things do not move around on their own. Unless you’ve watched those possessed doll videos on Youtube or Poltergeists. Fuck… what if they’re real?
There was a little shelf in my bedroom that was attached to the studs in the walls. Every time a bus drove past our place, it would rattle back and forth just slightly. I never noticed before, but every single time it creeps me out now. I have to wear earplugs and a sleep mask, but then I just find myself thinking in the silence ‘fuck, if someone sneaks in I won’t hear them…’
I knew I was just making things up. Overactive imagination – maybe the trip jarred loose something in my head. I used to write when I was a kid, and I read way too much for my own good at work. This was all a bunch of nothing. Literally nothing. But nothing was giving me tachycardia and greying my hair. My coworkers told me I looked like I’d aged in Cuba, instead of relaxing.
That’s when it hit me. What if that Santeria goat skull god really was fucking with my life? That’d be a fitting punishment for someone who’s all about science and logic, wouldn’t it? Twist everything I’m used to into this weird and fucked up world where I add two and two and get five?