Home > All the Crooked Saints(7)

All the Crooked Saints(7)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

“You’re gonna have to get out of that car eventually,” Tony told him. “I thought this was where you were headed. Both going to the same place, you said! Believe me, my aunt told me to keep walking until I found a Mercury, you said! You callin’ me a liar, sir? This is the place!”

That was when the dogs burst out.

Sometimes, when dogs emerge at farms, people come out afterward with reassuring statements about how the dogs’ barks are worse than their bites, how they look savage but are kittens at heart. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Members of the family, really. Visitors are comforted by the knowledge, then, that these dogs are kept mostly for their alarm purposes, and to frighten away large predators.

No one would say that about the dogs at Bicho Raro. There were six of them, and although they were littermates, they were six different colors and sizes and shapes, all of them ugly. There were meant to be twelve of them, but these six were so bad-tempered that in the womb, they’d eaten the other six. They were so bad-tempered that when they’d been born, their mother had lost patience with them and abandoned them under a parade float in Farmington. There, a tenderhearted long-haul trucker had scooped them into a box to raise them to weaning age. They were so bad-tempered that he took up drinking before leaving them in a ditch near Pagosa Springs. A pack of coyotes tried to eat them there, but the puppies learned how to walk and then run and turned on the coyotes, chasing them nearly all the way to Bicho Raro.

That was when Antonia Soria, Beatriz’s mother, had found them and taken them home. They were still bad-tempered, but so was she, and they loved her.

Tony stood his ground for a hot minute. Pete rolled up his window. Antonia Soria’s six dogs snarled and circled, their hackles up and their teeth bared. They hadn’t killed a man yet, but the yet was displayed prominently in their expressions.

This was how Tony came to be on the roof of the Mercury when the lights of Bicho Raro began to flicker on. Now that the lights were coming on, it was obvious that there were owls everywhere. There were horned owls and elf owls, long-eared owls and short-eared owls. Barn owls with their ghostly ladies’ faces, and screech owls with their shaggy frowns. Dark-eyed barred owls and spotted owls. Stygian owls with eyes that turned red in lights at night—these owls weren’t originally from Colorado, but like the Soria family, they had come from Oaxaca to Bicho Raro and decided to stay.

The dogs were trying to get on the hood of the car to reach Tony; Pete activated the windshield wiper spray to repel them.

“You’re a real war hero,” Tony snarled. One of the dogs ate his left shoe.

“I could just drive us out of here,” Pete said. “You could hold on.”

“Boy, don’t even think about turning that key.”

“Are you sure this is it?” Pete asked.

“Damn pelicans,” Tony said. The promise of a miracle was rolling off him thick now, and the owls were swirling down low over the top of the Mercury. From Tony’s vantage point on the roof, he could see a row of small elf owls sitting on the roof of one of the metal-sided garages. They had big eyes and long legs, and although they were not laughing at him, it was close enough for Tony’s skin to crawl.

From the safety of the driver’s seat, Pete looked for signs of human life. He found himself looking at someone who was looking back.

A girl stood watching him from the porch of a small cabin. She wore a beautiful wedding dress and a very sad face. Her dark hair was pulled back into a smooth bun at the base of her neck. Her dress was wet, and so was her skin. This was because, despite the porch roof, it was raining on her. Rain originated from nowhere and spattered on her hair and face and shoulders and clothing, then ran off the stairs and formed a fast-running rivulet into the brush. Every part of her dress was covered with monarch butterflies, their orange-and-black stained-glass wings likewise soaked. They clung to her, unable to do anything but slowly move their wings or climb across the fabric. Butterflies are fragile fliers and cannot fly in the rain, or even in the dew. Too much water makes their wings too heavy to fly.

This was Marisita Lopez, one of the pilgrims. It had stormed around her ever since she had experienced her first miracle, and now rain constantly poured on her head and out of her eyes. It was not as beatific as one might imagine to live under continuous precipitation in a desert. The ground, instead of enjoying the sudden influx of moisture, was ill-prepared to accept it. The water pooled and ran away, striking down seedlings in its path. Floods, not flowers, followed in Marisita’s wake.

Here was a thing she wanted: to taste vanilla without crying. Here was a thing she feared: that the prettiest thing about her was her exterior.

Pete didn’t know it to look at her, but she had been preparing to make a terrible decision directly before they’d arrived. Now she could not act until the night had quieted again.

Rolling down his window, he called, “Can you help us?”

But Marisita, absorbed in her own dark night, withdrew into the building behind her.

He called again, “Is there anyone out there?”

There were. There were aunts and uncles and grandmothers and cousins and babies, but none of them wanted to welcome the pilgrims. It was not that they wanted to refuse these newcomers a miracle; it was simply that every bed was already full. Bicho Raro was brimming with pilgrims who couldn’t move on. And since the Sorias could not offer a room, there was only the miracle to attend to. Daniel would handle it, and the rest of them wouldn’t have to leave their warm homes or risk any contact with the pilgrims.

At that moment, however, Daniel was creeping back to the Shrine while Beatriz and Joaquin remained in the truck with the radio, trying to time their own return in such a way that it would not raise questions.

Because of this, Tony and Pete might have spent quite a long time on top of and inside the Mercury, if not for the fortuitous arrival of another vehicle.

The rescuers were Judith, Beatriz’s older sister, and Judith’s new husband, Eduardo Costa, coming down from Colorado Springs. Eduardo was driving his brand-new Chevy stepside pickup truck. The general agreement was that Eduardo loved the truck more than Judith, but at least he took good care of both. The two of them—three, if you counted Judith—had not been anticipated in Bicho Raro until the next day but had decided to take advantage of the cool temperatures to make the drive after sundown.

Judith used to be the most beautiful woman in Bicho Raro, but then she’d moved, and now she was the most beautiful woman in Colorado Springs. She was so beautiful that people would stop her on the street and thank her. She had gone to school to learn how to make her blue-black hair do whatever she wanted it to do, and now she made other women’s hair do what she wanted it to do in a small hairdresser shop where she worked with several other women. Her lips were the same rosebud as her younger sister Beatriz’s, only Judith painted hers a bloody red that set off her flawless brown skin and gleaming dark hair. She had been wearing artificial eyelashes in the womb and when they had fallen off in the birth canal, she had lost no time in replacing them. Where Beatriz took after their father, Francisco, Judith was more like volatile Antonia.

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