The man who had just introduced himself sat in a motorized wheelchair, his index finger rested on the small joystick near his right hand. His large dark eyes and dark hair were in stark contrast to his pinched, pale features. He wore a lab coat, and was covered from the waist down by a thin, white blanket. White gloves covered his hands, and a white scarf was wrapped around his neck.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Professor,” Jones said, extending his right hand. “And it’s Detective Jones by the way.”
Lamboi glared at the proffered hand until Jones put it away. “I wish that I could say the same,” he said. “I’m not used to the police barging into my facility and questioning my employees.”
Lamboi turned his formidable glare on his assistant before whipping his chair around and soundlessly scooting away. “Follow me,” he said as he rolled down one of the corridors.
Annoyed, Jones hurried to catch up. “I didn’t just barge into your facility,” he said once he’d caught up to the professor and his chair. “I’m here on official police business.
Lamboi ignored him and continued past the doors of what were obviously offices and meeting rooms.
“Why don’t we just stop at one of these offices?” Jones asked. “What I need to ask should only take a few minutes. And, by the way, I have to admit that I’m impressed at how quiet that chair is, it makes absolutely no noise.”
“The offices are the domain of my assistant and the other drones,” Lamboi answered dismissively. “I prefer to conduct my business in the labs.”
Lamboi ignored the detective’s observation about the chair.
They passed through two sets of double-doors that opened automatically into what the professor described as the main lab. Then he spun the chair around so that he now faced Jones.
“So what business is it that brings the police to my facility unannounced and unwelcome?” Lamboi asked.
Jones hid his annoyance and sighed inwardly. “I apologize for the intrusion, Professor,” he said. “But I’m here investigating a series of murders…”
“And what does that have to do with me?” the professor asked shortly.
“Have you heard about the recent killings that have taken place right here in Cabo Rojo?” Jones asked.
“I’m a very busy man, I don’t have time for television or newspapers,” Lamboi sneered, “Or the garish goings-on of the internet.”
“I understand,” Jones said as he glanced around at the rows of stainless steel and plastic contraptions that filled the enormous lab. “Well it appears that these killings may have been committed by a very powerful creature—an ape in fact.”
Lamboi rolled his eyes, “There are no apes here,” he said.
Jones took out his notepad and flipped through the pages. “According to a Mr. Benitez, your facility received a donation of a large, adult chimpanzee…”
“Oh yes, that creature,” Lamboi sniffed. “I accepted that animal mostly as a favor to the desperate young man that runs that particular facility, but once I’d received it—and after a thorough examination—I’d concluded that the creature was far too damaged to be of any use to me.”
“So where is it now?” Jones asked.
Lamboi smirked. “Follow me,” he said as he spun his chair around and headed to the far end of the lab.
Lamboi stopped his chair in front of a bank of stainless steel racks filled with glass containers of various sizes. “There’s your ape,” he said, indicating one of the large containers with a thrust of his chin.
Jones looked and was immediately repulsed and sickened. Floating in the fluid that filled one of the larger jars was an ape’s head, its face frozen in a perpetual scream.
“What happened to it?” Jones asked once he’d composed himself.
“I euthanized it, of course,” Lamboi said matter-of-factly. “As I said, it was far too damaged for it to be of any use to me.”
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“What’s left of its body is a pile of ashes in our on-site crematorium,” Lamboi said. Then he added with another smirk, “Feel free to take its head with you if it will help with your investigation.”
“No thanks,” Jones said, irritated with the professor’s condescending attitude.
“Very well then,” Lamboi said as he spun away and headed towards the doors through which they’d entered the lab. “In that case, I assume that our business here is finished.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Jones said as he snapped his notepad shut and put it away.
Lamboi led Jones back to the lobby where he and his personal assistant, Anna Vasquez, watched Jones exit through the front door and go out to the parking lot. Lamboi then turned his chair towards Anna Vasquez, his face twisted in rage.
Detective Perfecto Jones stepped out into the parking lot and walked the short distance to his car. The day had become overcast and Jones could hear the boom of thunder in the distance. The incoming weather matched his mood—this path of his investigation had basically come to an end—his theory, as crazy as it was, of a rogue ape being somehow involved in the killings in Cabo Rojo had ended in a pile of ashes, and a pickled head in a jar…
Suddenly a terrified scream came from inside the facility, followed closely by a loud thud and an even louder inhuman shriek that made the hairs on the back of Jones’ neck stand on end.
Jones yanked his pistol from its holster and ran back into the lobby of the facility…and into a nightmare!
Anna Vasquez’s body lay on the tiled floor in a rapidly spreading pool of her own blood. Her head was missing. Crouched over her, his gloved hands covered in blood, stood Professor Lamboi—his wheelchair lay on its side.
“Hold it right there, Professor!" Jones yelled. “Don’t move!”
Lamboi slowly turned his head, looking first at Jones’ raised gun, and then directly into Jones’ eyes. He smiled. “It was your fault, you know,” he said calmly. “She knew how I value my privacy. She knew better than to allow the police to come nosing around in my business.”
Outside, thunder rumbled and announced the approaching rainstorm with a dramatic series of bass drumrolls. Inside, the two men ignored it and kept their eyes locked together.
“It was only a matter of time before you were caught, Professor,” Jones said evenly.
“Don’t you want to know why? Or how?” Lamboi asked.
“I can find all of that out once I have you cuffed and in a cell,” Jones answered. “Right now what I want is for you to lay face down on the floor right there.”
Professor Lamboi glanced down at the slowly congealing pool of Anna Vasquez’s blood. “That can be quite messy,” he said.
Jones quickly took a glance at the blood too, just as a sharp crack of thunder exploded outside.
Lamboi leapt at the detective, reaching for the pistol in Jones’ hand. Jones squeezed the trigger but at this close range he couldn’t tell if he’d hit Lamboi or not. As the two men struggled over the gun, Jones was able to fire off two more shots but they went wide; the bullets burying themselves in the fancy receptionist’s desk. Lamboi then succeeded in knocking the gun out of Jones’ hand, nearly breaking the detective’s wrist in the process.
The thunder, now accompanied by brilliant flashes of lightning and the staccato sound of rain, continued to boom outside even as the two men inside savagely fought for the upper hand.
Jones, although he was larger than the professor and trained in hand-to-hand combat by the military, could tell, to his horror, that he was losing the fight. He latched onto the professor in a futile bid to wrestle him to the ground, but Lamboi managed to knock his hands away and shove him back. Jones sprawled onto his back, tearing away the professor’s blood-spattered lab coat as he fell.
Jones quickly raised himself up onto his elbows; the lab coat still clenched tightly in his hand, and looked around wildly for the professor.
At first, Jones’ mind was incapable of processing what he was seeing, and he just sat there propped up on his elbows trying to will his eyes to see reason. But his eyes betrayed him, because what they insisted on seeing was the professor’s head attached to the thickly muscled body of an ape!
“Like it?” Professor Lamboi asked, puffing out his chest and standing a little straighter. “Quite by accident I found that the amalgamation of chemicals in the ape’s body not only negated its natural ability to reject foreign tissue while maintaining a more or less uncompromised immune system, but the ape’s physiology was such that it seemed to welcome and even embrace multi-tissue interfaces while still remaining capable of fighting off the typical microbial invaders that cause infection. I considered it a miracle that this animal found its way to my facility. Due to my unfortunate disability, I’d already conducted a massive amount of research on the probability of performing a successful head transplant, and after that it was a matter of programming my surgical robots to perform the surgery.”
Jones stood up on legs that felt like rubber, and tried to keep his hands from shaking. “I have no idea what you just told me,” he said. “But is all that the reason you killed those people—for some kind of research?” Jones inched his way to the door as he spoke.
“Oh no,” Lamboi said. His eyes, feverish and shiny, followed Jones’ every move. “Even though the surgery was a complete success, I’d made one slight miscalculation…I had opted to keep the ape’s brain stem intact, it’s the reptilian part of the brain that controls base functions such as breathing. Unfortunately this eventually had the effect of somehow transferring the creature’s substantial, and for the most part, uncontrollable rage to me. In essence, its madness became my madness.”
Jones could make out a viscous line of drool leaking from the professor’s mouth and making its way down to his chin. When he looked back up to the professor’s eyes, all he could see were the dizzying depths of his insanity. In desperation Jones threw the lab coat at Lamboi and ran out into the storm.
The wind and rain lashed at his face, blinding him. He fumbled for his car keys, but his trembling hands wouldn’t cooperate and he dropped them on the ground. Jones heard the building’s door open behind him, and he turned to see the monster that used to be Professor Lamboi framed in the open doorway. Lamboi tore the gloves from his hands and flexed his powerful fingers.
“Your head will make a fine addition to my collection, Detective!” Lamboi called out before bursting into maniacal laughter that ended in a series of ape-like hoots and shrieks.
“My God no!” Jones gasped before turning and running across the parking lot and out through the still open gate.
At first Jones ran along the road, but then he heard the beast that had been Professor Lamboi gibbering and shrieking insanely behind him, and he plunged into the darkening forest in a panic.
Jones soon lost his bearing as he crashed through the trees and underbrush, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He had hoped to somehow get to the lighthouse, with its promise of shelter and people, but now he had no idea where he was going and he was too afraid to care. All he knew was that every instinct, every sense, indeed every fiber of his being screamed at him to get away!
Another flash of lightning lit up the sky, burning the image of the forest into monochromatic relief before his eyes, and revealing the glint of water in its strobe. Jones stumbled towards it.
He’d almost made it when he was forced to stop short. He thought that he had been headed towards a beach and the possibility of more people, but instead he now found himself standing on a muddy knoll that abruptly ended right in front of him. The hurricane must have washed away a chunk of the land here, and created a ragged outcropping that jutted out about ten feet above the water.
Jones searched the immediate area desperately as he tried to figure out which way to go, but it was no use—he was trapped.
Jones turned towards a blood-curdling shriek that came from the forest behind him just as a bolt of lightning silhouetted the nightmarish figure of the professor hurtling towards him!
Professor Lamboi barreled into the detective, wrapping his long, powerful arms around his torso as both men flew off the knoll and into the water ten-feet below.
The shock of hitting the cold water caused Lamboi to loosen his grip on the detective who, despite having the wind knocked out of him, managed to kick and flail his arms until he found himself free and swimming towards the surface.
Once he’d broken through to the surface and had filled his lungs with air, Jones nervously scanned the surrounding water for any sign of Lamboi.
A few moments later, sputtering and coughing, the professor surfaced about three feet away from where Jones was effortlessly treading water. The detective could see that Lamboi was having trouble staying afloat.
“Help me you fool! Help me!” The professor coughed.
Jones could only stare.
Professor Lamboi let out a terrible shriek and reached out with one of his long, monstrous arms in an effort to grab Jones, but the sudden movement only caused him to momentarily sink beneath the water. He soon returned to the surface again, his dark eyes wide with fear. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “I can’t stay afloat!”
“An ape’s muscle-mass is too dense for it to swim,” Jones recited, remembering being told this earlier in his investigation. “It would just sink.”
“No!” Professor Lamboi spluttered past a mouthful of seawater, his arms beating frantically at the water around him. “Save me! You must save me-e-e…” And then he sank beneath the waves one last time, his pale face still visible for several feet under the sea’s covering before disappearing into the depths.
Jones looked away, noticing for the first time that the storm had passed. He saw lights and heard distant music coming from a strip of beach about 50 yards away and tiredly made his way in that direction. Back to the world of comparative normalcy, and away from the final watery resting place of the Beast of Cabo Rojo.
Arnaldo Lopez Jr. was born of Puerto Rican parents, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He’s sold articles to Railway Age magazine, The Daily News magazine, Homeland Defense Journal, and Reptile & Amphibian magazine; scripts to Little Archie and Personality Comics; and short stories to Neo-Opsis magazine, Lost Souls e-zine, Nth Online magazine, Blood Moon magazine, The Acentos Review magazine, Feed Your Monster e-zine, Fangs and Broken Bones horror anthology, Swallowed by the Beast horror anthology, Trembling with Fear horror anthology, Monsters Attack horror anthology, Mythic horror & Sci-fi anthology, and the A reflection of Me: An AAMBC Anthology. He was also editor of Offworld, a small science fiction magazine that was once chosen as a "Best Bet" by Sci-Fi television. His first novel, Chickenhawk, is the winner of two International Latino Book awards.
The giant green lady stood unbalanced, tipping backwards on the heels of her sandals. A dusting of snow covered her toes. Jake Morrison stared upwards, taking in her imposing figure. Although impossible, he thought that her inflexible neck had bent. Her lifeless pupils seemed to have rolled up to scan the heavens. From Morrison's view, the sharp rays of her crown, so far above him, appeared as parallel lines, each pair stretched out to where they met at the vanishing point.
Once the government proclaimed the Statue of Liberty a holy relic, they contracted the firm of Morrison, Kopovitz, and Shoemaker to install a four-hundred-foot tall cross to complement the sculpture and to affirm Lady Liberty's place as part of the One Nation Undergod's Daeo-Christian heritage. As a further design improvement, the statue's tablet was changed to the Ten Commandments which she now held at arm's length for all the world to witness.
The new structure, a massive thick-beamed cross, towered over and behind Liberty, dominating her; its bone-white bricks gleamed. But...
... but perhaps I shouldn't have used so much dynamite to excavate the foundation for the cross, Morrison thought. As a result of the blasting, the backside of Liberty's pedestal had sunk three feet below the center. The front, in turn, had risen three feet, enough to cause a fifteen-foot displacement at the height of the torch.
“She's going to fall,” Kopovitz said.
“Just a little bent,” Morrison replied. “Besides, look on the bright side: no one remembers the architect of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
“Bonanno Pisano,” Kopovitz whispered.
Shoemaker peered down on his partners from an observation window on top of her head, a flea on her scalp.
Kopovitz thought of his grandparents, all four of them arriving at different times at Ellis Island, just a stone's skip away. Lithuanian, Irish, Italian, and Armenian, all finding this nation and making a home, all passing this giant's torch, all finding each other, first as husbands and wives, then ultimately sharing the same descendants.
I can save Liberty, Morrison told himself. That chain at her ankles, symbolically broken, could be mended to serve as an anchor. Spikes could be driven through her feet to secure her to her base. The arm holding the Bible could be lashed to the horizontal beam of the cross for support and the wrist of the arm raising the torch could be nailed to the vertical column.
Strange, he thought, from this perspective her crown seemed to be made of thorns.
Martin Hill Ortiz, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a professor of Pharmacology at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Martin has authored numerous short stories that have appeared in print and online journals, four mystery thrillers, and his 60-page poem, Two Mistakes, won the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid poetry award. He assembled and wrote the introduction to a three-volume anthology of the best short stories in English available through Rook's Page Publishing. He has also worked in theater, having run a comedy troupe in South Florida.
Review of ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, a Rudolfo Anaya Extra-Fiction Novel
By Armando Rendón
In Rudolfo Anaya’s latest book,ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, science as in science-fiction gives way to the true fundamental forces of nature as he weaves a story that flashes back and forth in time. The title is misleading because it’s not really ChupaCabra, the goatsucker demon of Mexican lore, that meets Billy the Kid, a historical human artifact mythologized by Western writers of the purple prose, but a clash of realities. Obviously, the title suggests some weirdness going on. Is it fantasy, sci-fi, horror, a retro version of the time travel gimmick? Or is Rudy just pulling our collective leg? As with really good time-travel yarns, underlying the storyline are critical views of society, its social mores or disregard for humane values. I would say that in all the best science fiction I’ve read over half a century – that’s a lot of reading – writers generally conjure up the bad guys or create a social setting that contrasts with the narrator/author’s own time. In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the protagonist reconfigures a chair with odd bells and whistles, powered by who knows what and travels thousands then tens of thousands of years into the future. It seems he never returned from his last trip, so the Traveler may still be out there. In a way, Anaya has come, I was going to say, full circle, but only half circle back to his highly acclaimed book, Bless Me, Ultima, which is on many reading lists of schools throughout the U.S. Ultima, the curandera who becomes a spiritual guide for Antonio, the young protagonist in the story, imbues the book with her other-worldly persona and a powerful aura of mysticism. To Anaya, his homeland is a mystical place, the mountains guardians of secrets and beauties found nowhere else, its rivers arteries of life in an otherwise harsh land, and a challenge to survival which his forebears have continually encountered for generations. I’ve caught a glimpse of these truths—seeing how mountain peaks jut up to cut off the horizon, finding a río at the bottom of a gorge by a glint of sun, leaning back a chair against a sun-warmed adobe wall... Anaya’s treatment here conveys the hardships of survival in the New Mexico of the latter 1800s into the early 1900s following the takeover by the U.S. government of half the territory of Mexico as a result of America’s invasion of Mexican territory beyond the Rio Bravo (Grande). Those hostilities ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Yet, this book also celebrates the nuevomexicanos who survived for generations from the meager resources the earth grudgingly gave up. Their devotion to a religion which was increasingly remote resulted in the creation of homegrown zealots, los penitentes, a secretive society of men who preserved the religiosity of the communities through extreme exercises of penitence and sacrifice. The hard life of the early residents resulted in a resolute people, determined to survive in spite of the hardships faced every day. This is how I perceive nuevomexico, from readings (Anaya’s works and others) and conversations and the few times I’ve ventured into the state, traveling far up toward the headwaters of the Rio Grande in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Out of this history evolved a few persons whom I got to know personally: Tomás Atencio, who created a literary headwaters in Dixon, co-founder of La Academia de la Nueva Raza and author of Resolana: A Chicano Pathway to Knowledge; Enriqueta Vasquez, who was one of the first Chicanas to publish a book on the Chicano Movement (Viva la Raza, 1974) and was part of founding the newspaper, El Grito del Norte, in 1968, about the same time that Quinto Sol Publications arose in Berkeley, which by the way was first to publish Bless Me, Ultima, and Con Safos out of East Los Angeles; Esteván Arellano, a writer and photographer, who drove me up into the mountains the time I met Atencio, and Reies Tijerina, who was a Tejano, but allied himself with and became the most prominent leader of the land grant movement in New Mexico. And Anaya. This sampling of people and experiences inform my reading of ChupaCaba Meets Billy the Kid. I say Anaya circled halfway back to Ultima, because the plot in this book depends heavily on tried and true sci-fi gimmicks, though the story is set in the middle of the Lincoln County War of 1878. A super deep state government unit, operating out of the infamous Area 51, called the C-Force, which also answers directly to the White House; an incredible experiment run by C-Force gone awry which combines the DNA of chupacabra and alien DNA (think Area 51) to produce a devilishly vicious though sometimes clownish hybrid called a Saytir; the good-old wormhole angle worms its way in somehow (well, I know but I’m not telling), and the time-lapping magical laptop (magical because it seems to have a solar powered charger in 1878) that functions for note taking and for checking emails from this now (2018). The reference to the White House, that is, to an actual living person is rare in science-fiction. But Anaya’s story is happening in real time—his book is fresh off the presses. The president has authority over the C-Force and its members are continually advising him. (Does the C stand for ChupaCabra or Chili? Is C-Force to blame for the direction of current events? Is the current president really a Saytir?) In other words, Anaya throws every quirky sci-fi accoutrement ever devised into the fray. You’ve got to love it. Something seemed to be lacking in the story for me as I started to read it, but then I met the aspiring writer protagonist, Rosa, who believes it is her mission to write the true story about Billy the Kid. The true story, “it’s what every writer wants,” she says, still queasy though from some of the not so savory action she’d seen so far. So, lots of background fact-gathering, laying the groundwork for the story, but little of the spiritual or otherworldly that could connect us to his earlier writings, especially Ultima. Yet, Ultima lies in wait in the background throughout the book. For example, look for the flashback to the movie of the Anaya classic. Rosa, the young person documenting all these events and characters, teams up with Billy the Kid, who mysteriously shows up at her new-found digs in 1878 New Mexico. A sort of platonic relationship ensues—Billy is a very approachable fellow with the young ladies even though rather reproachable otherwise. So how does Rosa end up in 1878? Rosa’s chief means of transportation is by horse, of course. She witnesses key events in Billy the Kid’s last few days and shares the lives of kind Mexican American hosts who give her food and shelter, even lend her a proper dress for a señorita to go to el baile, basically because she is friend of Bilito, the Kid. Armed with her laptop and with a lot of time on her hands, so to speak, as she battles writer’s block or rides shutgun next to the Kid, Anaya, I mean, Rosa, ponders a number of issues: the very notion of time, the role of literature in culture, what is driving her even to consider writing about this outlaw and what happened in a backwater of history 140 years ago, like who cares? Rosa suggests that there is far more to comprehend beyond what we see or seek to comprehend. “Time makes something new of us all,” Rosa tells Billy as the Kid’s own timeline draws to a close. Some of us have more time than others, she fails to add. Rosa, of course, knows Billy’s last day is approaching—but she can’t reveal that fact. After what seems like months living in this past world, Rosa begins to worry about how she is to return; there’s no ponderous circus balloon she can take to get back home. Exactly the point, because we want to find out what happened, she has to come back to our real “time” and tell us, but how does she get back? A low-rider spaceship with hydraulics powered by frijoles de la olla? No, chale! The force that bends space and time, Anaya tells us, is beyond quantum physics, string theory, time warps, marvelous spaceships powered by dilithium crystals to visit San Francisco Bay in the 1950s, let alone a barrio kid’s scooter that magically carries him back to historic moments in Chicano history. We know that somehow she made it back. All the while she has been recording what she sees and hears. At the end of the book, she has graciously provided a detailed timeline, “Rosa’s Notes and Observations,” downloaded from her laptop no doubt of what she saw, so that’s proof. But the question still remains, how? When we find out what that inexorable source of energy is, all falls into place. This is what Anaya is getting at. It’s what he has been writing about all his life. How we ourselves can be transported back in time, back to a transcendent period of our own. It’s so obvious when you read the book.
Armando Rendón is editor/founder of Somos en escrito Magazine, author of Chicano Manifesto (1971, 1996), and creator of Young Adult novels, including the four-part series, The Adventures of Noldo and his Magical Scooter, (2013-2016) and the latest Noldo novel, The Wizard of the Blue Hole (2018).
For an excerpt from ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, a Rudolfo Anaya novel, the book was featured recently in Somos en escrito under the title, “I am becoming a recorder of history.” The book is available at ChupacabrabyAnaya.