Wednesday, November 09, 2005
This was one of the first stories I wrote for the Soul Food Cafe and I'm partial to this tale for several reasons: but like The Amazing Benandanti and Gone To Croatan you'll see the beginning shades of Duwamish Bay.
Well, good evening to you and welcome! Come in, come in. Yes, that fog did come in fast tonight didn't it? Sometimes it just creeps up the bluff from the beach below and other times it moves as fast as a freight train, doesn't it?
As you can see I've added some things here at the Cafe, officially I'm a Curio Shop now and I'll be open each night at Eventide. That's twilight to you I guess.
So what shall it be tonight? A ghost story? Maybe a twisted tale of revenge or longing or greed? What? My story. Why not? It's a good one, if I don't say so myself.
Have a seat...I have to talk to the Management about those doors... they won't stay open and they're forever slamming themselves closed. Anyway, this is my story and why I'm here today...
When I was a girl, my grandfather owned a Curio Shop down at the Duwamish Bay Marina. You've probably heard of it. He had a genuine Egyptian Mummy, an electric chair and an old time embalming machine that's over six feet tall.
My favorite things were the shrunken heads he billed as genuine fake shrunken heads. He didn't feel like explaining where his sister in law got them. I'd sure be glad to tell you. She got them from her bush pilot days.
I always thought it was cool that I had the only grandmother on the block whose sister flew airplanes and could land them anywhere the ground was level. But it wasn't so cool when I found out exactly what she was flying. Mostly booze, some drugs, guns. Stuff you couldn't very well send through the mail.
One day she started flying around these little Islands in the Pacific. She never sent post cards from these trips. But she always brought back the coolest presents and once she brought back this little chest full of shrunken heads. Some were obviously very old and the hair on those little heads where jet-black. She had just come back from the Central Asia as well as the Pacific, so that wasn't surprising.
Then I saw some with red, blonde and light brown hair. Some even had traces of beards and mustaches. The looked almost brand new and smelled sort of funny. Like Lemons.
She saw me lift one and hold it up to the light and she said somewhat darkly, " See what happens when someone warns you to keep your head or else? "
I dangled the little head around, "or else " I whispered back.
My Grandfather, Cypriano, came into the room then and looked over our shoulders to see what Auntie had brought back. He was starting to expand his curio shop to what it is now and Auntie could be counted on to bring back some very interesting treasures. He looked down into the chest and pulled out about eight of the heads. Then he gently plucked the one from my fingers and dropped it into the chest. "
Bury it you fool, " he told her and then he left the room muttering to himself about being glad stupidity wasn't catchy, or hereditary.
" Auntie, " I asked " do you know how to make shrunken heads now? "
" You bet honey bunny. "
" Is it hard? " "
Nah, once you can stop the body from running around its super easy. "
So the Curio Shop grew, mostly the patrons in those early days were the people who lived around China Town. Then with the new Marina families started coming in from the suburbs on the weekends for a taste of life by shore. With that my Grandfather's shop grew from a dark old boathouse to a bigger darkened boat house with lots and lots of weird treasures lining the walls, dangling from the ceiling and set out on tables.
Then my Grandather expanded the ice cream shop out front. That use to be my favorite place because it was your traditional 1950's malt shop with a juke box and wonder of wonders, we owned it. He loved rock and roll and those funny songs from the 20's. So it was a nice place to eat and talk and make plans. Then you could walk through this little doorway (the frame itself as well as the door was once used in a court house where an infamous serial killer was held and he was suppose to have been shot trying to escape through this very door, you could still see the bullet holes) and there was the Curio Shop wrapped in shadows and filleted sunlight waiting to be explored.
It was exciting at the Marina in those early days because there were all sorts of fun places opening almost every day. There was even an amusement park owned by the Arima family that had a famous carousel with horses and mermaids and other fanciful creatures to ride. Each one was unique, each was original and Mrs. Arima and her brothers handcrafted them all. That's where I spent my childhood, and then the Mummy of the Priestess came to us.
That's really when things changed for everyone at the Marina.
Auntie Akela drove up late one night, it was almost Midnight and she smelled very pleasant. Sort of a mix of Lavender and those thin Cuban cigars that she used to like to smoke. Plus, she smelled of gin.
"You've got to see what I've got Pualani, " she slurred as my Mother opened the door " it'll put hair on your chest."
I guess it's because my Mother had no desire to see hair on her chest that she called over her shoulder " Papa, it's for you. " She invited my Auntie in and discreetly guided her to a chair in the hall. " Where have you been Auntie? Everyone's been looking for you. "
"Oh? " she looked startled and a bit scared. " Look in the truck bed Cypriano."
"It's okay, it's the good every bodies, you know? " my Mother said before my Auntie could make for the back door.
Then my Grandfather came through the door with a body; at least I could see the outline of a body under a thin red shroud edged with gold embroidery.
Auntie Akela got up and pushed her thick black hair back behind her ears. She straightened her shirt and tucked it into blue jeans. Then she went to my grandfather and motioned for him to put the figure in his arms down on the couch. She pulled the shroud back from the face and motioned me forward.
"This is a Priestess and she was buried in the Temple of Bast. You can see where she was stabbed...it's a horrible wound in her back. Then they sewed her mouth so she couldn't talk in the next world shut and they tried to take her heart. They did these things to her when she was alive. See the cuts on her hands? She tried to fight them off. But the city she lived in is gone, the people are gone and all that is left of them is she. But look at her Sarah. She's still the most beautiful woman in the world. They couldn't take that from her."
It was very clear the Priestess had respect from my Auntie that she hardly, if ever gave to the living.
"How did you get her?" I asked in a whisper.
" Won her in a card game," Auntie Akela slurred in my ear" she told me too."
"That's how the Priestess of Bast came to Mountlake Terrace and found her place at the Marina.
The Priestess soon replaced the Soda Fountain as my favorite part of the shop.
She had a very nice place in a glass case made of teak from a tree my grandfather cut down himself in the Philippines. He told me that a horrible demon had taken refuge in the tree and in order to get rid of it he cut the tree down to force the demon out. That's how he got the bite marks on his hand and back and that's how my Grandmother lost her eye.
The teak had remained in his garage until the Priestess came to us. It was a symbol of bravery to my Grandfather and he wanted to give at least that much to the Priestess.
My Grandfather even put a guest book by the Priestess where you could read signatures and messages from people who came from among the States and Canada, the Orient, Europe, Transylvania (my favorite) and just about every exotic place you could imagine. The guest book was back there so the Priestess would know that people were paying her respect thousands of years after her death. My family gave her that because after she came to us the Shop wasn't just successful; it had become a major tourist stop. The only one owned by a Filipino family, the only one that always seemed to be opened. No matter what time of the year or time of the day.
This part of my story about the Curiosity Shop is always the hardest part to tell. It is hard because it is the part where I have to explain how my family lost the Shop. It is about the day many of our friends and the people who had come to the Marina, with nothing more on their minds then looking forward to riding the Arima's Carousel or a trip to the Guzman's Ice Cream Shop to see the Mummy, never went home again.
The Fire at the Marina was supposed to have been started by a cigarette in a trashcan. That's how the legend went anyway. It burned down everything on the Marina that day.
It was just me and my Mom at the Shop the evening the fire broke out. I was stationed by the Priestess explaining the pros and cons of various candy bars, telling her the newest stories circulating about Auntie Akela (something about an angry wife with an ax) when all of the sudden the window behind us flooded with bright orange light. Then I heard my Mom scream my name from the parking lot at the side of the building. There was a terrible crash and the front of the building caved in and was replaced by a wall of flames.
The heat from the firewall in front of me singed my eyelashes and bangs right away. And I think my skin was beginning to blister when I heard the Priestess's glass case crack behind me. In fact, glass all over the shop was cracking and exploding. My little two headed calf disappeared behind running yellow flames that were racing along shelves and the rafters and the dangling shrunken heads burst into flames and looked exactly like little stars glowing along the ceiling.
Then the Priestess's case exploded behind me and before I was buried under a burning rafter, which had crashed at that point someone grabbed me by the hair on top of my head and snatched me back. It was a foreign voice I heard, it said my name and gentle, cool hands pulled me back and held me fast as the building burned and crashed around us. The voice was chanting something, part song, part incantation that I think was a prayer as the ceiling collapsed and the floor caved in and we both fell into the black water below the boathouse.
My Auntie Akela found the Princess and me across the street where the memorial plaque to the 800 people that died on the Marina that day is now. It's a pretty little park with chestnut trees and flowers and benches. There's even a little fishpond stocked with koi.
She found me, minus most of my hair sleeping under a tree. The Princess was leaning against the tree and somehow her ancient arms had unfolded and where now bent upwards, as if she had been carrying something. Her head was bowed and Auntie Akela saw that the dignity and even pride the ancient woman took to her tomb had been replaced with something else.
My Auntie found she couldn't face the Priestess, it seemed wrong to look her in the face at what was such a private moment.
I woke up a week later and when I did my Grandmother asked me where I had been and I solemnly replied, " I was with the Priestess " and she nodded and left it at that. No one asked me about my Journey and it's not a story I'm ready to tell. Of all the stories here, the Priestess story haunts me the most.
My Grandfather rebuilt the Shop and my Auntie Akela once again took to the sky and went to the darkened jungles and secret alleyways that every town, no matter how normal and respectable it may look on the outside has. She brought back new treasures and new secrets and stories and in our new Shop we dutifully told each and displayed each and every one.
When my Grandfather died my Mother took over the Shop and you can go there to this day and buy your own shrunken heads, you can see pictures of a female pilot named Akela Guzman who was said to have fought a demon in hand to hand combat in the jungles of the Philippines and you can see her trophy from that adventure in a glass jar...a head of a man with horns and eyes like a snake. Some people swear you can see his eyes follow you as you cross the store.
But as a courtesy I can tell you the true story.
Auntie did take that head with her own two hands.
She got the head after my Grandmother somehow knew to be in an alley a few blocks away from the Marina one evening after the fire. Somehow she found the person responsible for all those deaths would be there, and that that no matter how loud he yelled no one would hear him.
The head was once attached to the body of a man named Lars Cranfield and he was a stranger. When they found his headless, un-robbed body with his ID still in his wallet no one came forward to claim him.
They ran his picture from the license and his last known address at the hotel for over a year in the papers and then his story faded away.
He's the man who never existed and you can hear stories about him around Terrace to this day. Apparently the money in his wallet, even the change in his pocket was minted with the same date. His ID was new and his wallet and clothes on his back and hanging in the closet of his hotel room were brand new. Most of the stuff still had sales tags on them.
"It's like he never existed until the day he was found in the Alley " the story goes.
My Grandmother, she was avenging the death of her friends and all of those people, when her sister took the head...it changed to what you can see now. She keeps it, she says, as a warning. It's near the main door on a pedestal, and you'd think it would be in a place where people couldn't touch it or tap on the glass. Only nobody does.
And my Priestess, she's back in her case at the rear of the store. Educated people from all over the world visit her and have tried to learn her secrets. She is still quite beautiful and I like the way her head tilts down a little as if she's acknowledging you. Her hair, courtesy of my Grandmother and Mother is still bright and shinning because they put coconut oil in it at least once a month. They carefully dust her and keep the ornaments my Mother and Auntie Akela brought back from one of their rare trips together into Egypt where they discovered together the true identity of the Priestess polished and carefully arranged on her chest and arms.
When they came back they even put in a little indoor pond right near the Priestess and filled it with water lilies and other exotic water plants from places Auntie Akela traveled too. Some of those plants drive the botanist up the wall because they can't figure out where they came from. Or what they are.
Forensics experts who have studied the Princess, even x-rayed and done ultrasound's on her mummified remains can't explain why she's so well preserved. Being that she's held by human hands on a constant basis and is exposed to sea air 24 hours a day.
I still visit the Shop of course, but like my Aunt Akela I followed many strange and dark paths.
I've been to the Carpathian Mountains and I've seen the ruins of Pompeii and have heard the cries and whispers and pleas that some people mistake for the sounds of wind or echoes from the voices of tourists who visit this necropolis. I've seen the Pyramids and caves in South America where there is almost no air to breath, but there are the ruins of cities down there and I've learned those stories too. I've been stuck on roads in Africa and had to wait for a pride of lions to cross the road, I have seen dark places and light places and they all are here with me now.
And now I have my own little Shop here at the Cafe. I have my exotic books written in forgotten languages and the pictures in those books never look the same when you come back to them later. I have treasures that tell them stories. This is my own little Curio Shop and I'm glad you could visit.
Come back anytime and I'll be glad to tell you a story.
But it will have to be at Eventide.
© anita moscoso 2005
Posted by Anita Marie Moscoso at 6:44 PM