July 30, 2003

El Diablo Rojo

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

I sipped my beer and stared at her necklace, a half inch unpolished silver cross attached to a slightly larger dark brown wood cross. When she talked and moved her head back and forth, the dangling cross bounced up and down. My thoughts danced with the cross while I finished my beer. I knew that her necklace had a great story. And I was going to find out.

When I first quizzed her on it, she grabbed her necklace with both hands. Her firm grip tensed as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her faced flushed three kinds of blue and the all the blood in her arms rushed to her fingertips as she held back tears.

“I promise I will tell you the story, but not right now,” she assured me four years ago.

On three other occasions I desperately tried to pry away from her the origins of her mysterious necklace. And each time my attempts failed. I only got one interesting bit of information. It had to do with her grandfather Diego, a fisherman on the Sea of Cortez.

When Diego was a small child, his father, one of the many fisherman in the town of Ascencio often took Diego and his brothers out to work with him. It was a local tradition and the best way to pass down the trade secrets of the family business, as the young boys helped out their father. Diego’s father was a small and patient man, but he had one firm rule: Do not fall into the water. He only had one fear: El Diablo Rojo. He witnessed too many deaths from fishermen that were not careful and fell overboard, only to be pulled down into the deepest part of the sea and eaten alive by the red devils. Diego’s uncle escaped death, but lost four fingers when he fell into the Sea a decade earlier. Since then the overly religious and superstitious family became extra cautious. Every Sunday they prayed an hour longer at church before they went home and lit fourteen candles in front of a tree that looked like the Virgin Mary. Each candle represented one of the family members that died after falling into the sea and eaten by the red devils. Diego’s uncle should have been fifteen but he was lucky.

When Diego was nineteen he had finally earned his own boat. He got to set his own rules, make up his own schedule and most of all, he didn’t have to work in front of his father, who muttered every two minutes, “Be careful Diego. Don’t fall in the water.” Life seemed perfect for the now married Diego, the father of twins and another on the way. His family fishing business thrived after decades of industrious work from everyone. He moved into a new house with a courtyard and a new boat and crew. He had a beautiful wife, two plus kids, and a sexy mistress. Diego’s happiest days were almost over.

One evening after visiting his girlfriend Maria Madeglana he stumbled home extremely drunk. Before he reached his house, he came across the tree that looked the Virgin Mary. The memorial of flowers, candles, and small trinkets set up by Diego’s female relatives was a perfect place for Diego to piss before he puked three times. He wiped his mouth and stumbled on home, not knowing that his urine and vomit put out every candle. The eternal flame vanished and so too did the good fortune of Diego and his family’s fishing business.

The next morning a hung over Diego was not paying attention while he worked. His balance was off, and he slipped and fell into the water after his boat capsized. His father and brother worked on their boat close by and when they saw Diego’s crew struggling to try to get back in the boat, they hurried over to help. When he was close enough, Diego’s brother jumped in and tried to rescue Diego. But he could not find him. A large squid pulled down Diego. As he tried to break free from the grasp of multiple tentacles, another squid grabbed a hold. Then another and another. Within minutes a orgy of cannibalistic squid dragged random parts of Diego and his brother down to the deepest part of the sea. All three crewmen disappeared, assumed eaten by the squid. They even tore apart most of Diego’s new wooden boat. Only a few pieces survived as they washed onto the beach, which Diego’s mother made into small crosses that she gave her entire family and made them swear not to take off the cross under any circumstances.

“The red devil ate my grandfather,” she finally confessed after she kissed her cross and silently repeated an Act of Contrition. “And that’s why I don’t go into the ocean or to beaches.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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