Aphelion Issue 253, Volume 24
August 2020
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Rum Runners and Pirate Saints

Claria, Part 1: The Birth of the Demon Fish

by Theresa C. Gaynord

Footsteps plague the scene;
two sets, one double the size
of the other, pressed hard into

The silent siren of death recruits
the moon, and it complies as if
overwhelmed by helplessness,
in its Gibbous phase.

Mutilated bodies contort in agony
while blood fills the beach without
the vision of a sunken chest to
ease the pain;

surely, the devil was in their midst
and the fervent bottles of rum would
not serve as appeasement either,
but will possess them in evil instead.

In the distance, a drummer plays
to the beat of the Orishas, but the
houses along the coastline are dark
and still.

The echoes of their screams have
stopped in unison with the dead,
fading off into the blues of the night

As for the two footprints, only
a day will pass. One day, in the
labyrinth of life where your future
can be foretold for only ten dollars.

One day, where the mysteries
of the universe can become a
flourishing business, in a land of kill
or be killed.

Ten years earlier


The moon shines over the Cuban
province of Matanzas with a narcissistic
vulnerability that makes even the tourists
take notice. These encapsulated moments
of insight are viewed as spiritual
communication from the Orishas
themselves, especially when they take place
during one of the initiate ceremonies.

Lanterns swing on and off in the far rolling hills
north of the province as the sand clatters
across stone and rock in the beach resort of
Varadero, where the martial beat of pounding
drums increase in intensity with the crashing
waves and ocean surges that rip away layers
of sediment under the surface.

To the south, by the swamp lands and the beach
of Giron, a disorienting mist is forming into an
ominous cloud, blocking out the moon as it billows
empty from its place of execution. The wildlife
loom their heads in its direction, almost as if they
anticipate its arrival.

The long stretch of fertile plains in central Matanzas
smells of tobacco, citrus fruits, and sugar, a repeated
scent that remains attached to the air, carried by the
wind into the skin, hair and lungs of every living
inhabitant of the island. Even the post mortem damage
to the skeletonized corpse of an unidentified animal,
doesn’t inhibit that sweet smell.

By a secluded beach in Guama, home of one of the
largest underground cave and lake systems in
Latin America, santeros dressed in blue and white
garments with silver trimmings pay homage to Yemaya
in a series of musical prayers called bembe. The
instrumental rhythms fill the igbodu’, the ceremonial
space, begging for the throne, the seat of the Orishas.

Ritual blue and white beads adorn the necks of the
participants and a cloth canopy of the same colors
drape the vessel to the secrets of the Orisha. Heads
tilt back, floating as though no body were attached,
keep time with the Lucumi tunes. Some of the dancers
lose their balance and tumble, a clear indication
the Orishas are near.

The oru’ cantado or sung oration calls on them:
Ellegua, Oya’, Ogun, Yemaya’, Obtala’, Ochun,
and Chango’. A black rooster is snatched by its neck
and offered as sacrifice. Rosario gives an anguished
cry of protest as a new contraction grips at her very soul.

Soon she will give birth.

Blood streaked thighs are fully exposed as her face
contorts in pain; the flames of the bonfire, overturn
the darkness, rekindling the night with magic. At first
Rosario doesn’t feel the baby move down, but she feels
the crowning. One more push and she will be born.
The rumble of drums, chants and dancing seems to incite
strong winds that spray the heaving earth with salt water,
as if by command.

The circle dancing around Rosario
becomes more violent, spinning, gliding closer to her
and her unborn child. One of the santeras, her sister,
Maria, is mounted by the Orisha Yemaya and begins to
speak as the vessel for the ritual possession. In tongue,
she thanks her children for the banana chips and pork
cracklings left as offering, the rum, black-eyed peas,
sugar cane molasses and watermelon. Rosario’s head
flails from side to side and she lays panting as her screams
reduce her to exhaustion.
Maria, still in ritual possession, touches Rosario’s stomach.

A burst of red splatters the sand beneath her, and then
the wailing of a baby.
“Baby Alicia! Child of my heart, child of the sea!” Maria says,
and she looks over at Escobar before collapsing to the ground.
Carlos holds his newborn baby girl in his arms before he wraps
her up in a blanket and hands her to her mother. Rosario looks
down to see bluish skin streaked with blood as the now rising
sun puts an end to the night’s chill.

Gale force winds and water start to inundate roads, billowing
violently over bridges, pervading the Valley of Vinales as if
summoned to complete a specific task. There are murmurs
muttered in exasperation, desperate hands gathered around
a half a dozen breeding tanks occupying the lush gardens
of a government-funded estate. The water levels in the pools
rise faster, and the quest to drain them becomes like a puzzle
or twisted game.

Brackish water continues to slosh over its edges, overflowing
onto the cobblestone walkways that are littered with glossy
green leaves and orange blossoms. First glance at the nearest
breeding tank, surrounded by purple jacaranda, creates panic.
The Claria are escaping. Their unique form of locomotion
is unmistakable. With a preternatural sense they head for the
jungle that borders the property… for the river system that lays

Only those involved will bless themselves and Cuba against
the terror the hurricane has just unleashed. Only those
involved will appreciate this very personal message, from
Mother Nature herself!

Debris falls in a courtyard as the sky turns an ominous
red-pink. Baby Alicia, lying in her crib, seems delighted
by all the activity. Rosario could almost swear she sees
Alicia’s blanket ripple a bit even though the room is secure
from any breeze. And Alicia, with wide grin, arms spread
apart, flailing, seems to be responding to Mother Nature’s
precarious spectacle, with welcoming arms.

The next day the sun is shining like an oracle
in the sky. Fingers of intermittent light follow movement,
penetrating the depths of murky waters. In the shallows
where the lilies are thick, a female Claria sloshes about like
a serpent, looking for food. The sky settles down on the
earth as the clouds dissipate in heated air. All is calm.
Loneliness does not fail to induced a rush of hormones
that fuel her hunger. A burst of speed, jaws open,
a brief struggle; the end of a silvery tilapia’s life. And
in the shallows, amid the vegetation, a clutch of tilapia
eggs meet the same fate. She dines on them like the
queen that she is.


Her family is scattered throughout the myriad
of waterways that lace the countryside. She longs to be
with her own kind again, yet, inside her, her own clutch
of offspring are waiting to be born. And among them,
an unlikely prince will rise to become the future leader
of their kind. CLARIA!

To be continued…

2019 Theresa C. Gaynord

Theresa likes to write about matters of self-inflection and personal experiences. She likes to write about matters of an out-of body, out-of-mind state, as well as subjects of an idyllic, pagan nature and the occult. Theresa writes horror, as well as concrete gritty and realistic dramas. Theresa is said to be witch and a poet. (within the horror writing community).

Find more by Theresa C. Gaynord in the Author Index.

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