Thursday, November 1

Exchange Rate

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2007 Bolt, Ink. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

Exchange Rate

¡Sangre de Cristo!” Villareal almost tripped over his mop in his haste to leave the room. He crossed himself twice, intricate tattoos emblazoned on his forearms, the left a glowing Virgin Mary, the right a somber crucifix.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Ladrón de almas: the thief of souls!” The mummy I was studying, had been studying for a week, stared without eyes. I forgot Villareal was rarely down in the basement, so had never seen our current project.

“Oh, him? He was found in the mountains east of town. He can’t hurt anyone now.” Villereal crossed himself again, grabbed his tools, and fled up the stairs.

I spent the day examining the body and taking notes. The forgotten town in the arid Mexican hills had yielded a wealth of treasures from the nineteenth century, including 23 mummies. For some reason we could not determine, all had been found unburied in a cave, unusual for the time and place in which they had lived. Some were found with thick paper cards embellished in strong, flowing Latin script. Such was the case with Castro, our current project, so named for his card. We called them “inventory tags,” a ghoulish joke that no doubt would have offended our poor beloved janitor.

After bending over the table and peering through magnifying lenses all day, I was ready for a hot meal, a cold drink, and lively music at the cantina. Villareal met me at the top of the stairs.

“Please jefe,” he pleaded, “do not leave me here alone.”

“There is nothing to be afraid of, my friend. Nothing can hurt you here.” I laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Besides, the night crew will be here soon. Buenos noches.” I left the building, feeling guilty in the frightened gaze of the superstitious Villareal.

The next morning, the janitor greeted me as I opened the museum’s heavy doors. I didn’t recognize him.

“Where is Villareal this morning?” I asked.

Buenos dias, señora. He is not here. I take his place.” A glance at his nametag betrayed his lie. It said Castro. An expanding pool of sickness threatened to rise from my gut. I ran down the stairs to the basement lab. The corpse was still on the examining table, covered in the same dingy cloth.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” my assistant said. “We got another one today.” He pulled back the cloth to reveal a dried, papery face. The features were a grotesque contortion, as if the person had been frozen in panic at the moment of death. “Looks like the night guys moved ol’ Castro.”

My skin went numb. My bones turned cold. My eyes turned the room into stark colors and lines, dark and menacing. I pulled the cloth farther. There, on the parchment-like skin of mummified arms, were the faded representations of the Blessed Virgin and her Son.

I didn’t need to see the old inventory tag to know what it read now.


Anonymous said...

The ol' switcheroo! Great concept.

I wish this could have had a few humdred more words to explore the concept of the only person being susceptible to the curse (or whatever it was) was the one who was afraid / believed in it. The scientists seem untouched. But now that one knows... is he susceptible too? Nice story to leave me wanting more :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention... I adore the title!

rennratt said...

This story creeps me out more every time I read it.

Was the janitor eaten because he stayed - or because he BELIEVED?