©2012 Author: William Castaño-Bedoya
I wrote this story as part of a challenge that a group of literature enthusiasts set up for ourselves. I wrote it during the first phase of activity of Book&bilias, in those already immemorial times which, basically, allowed us to behave like children playing with letters and punctuation.
I respectfully hope you enjoy it.
As he crept between the walls of the village to which he had fled, drowning in anguish, Cameo Trostky bemoaned his fate. Gotié languished, embedded in the plateau of a mountain range known as Somiria in innermost Amarsia. It was eight nineteen in the evening of that tedious day, when an immense and mysterious power blew over the sky and forced the sunlight to take shelter. The evening was at the mercy of the gloom that smothered the area’s nature. The lush greenery of only moments before was transformed at eight nineteen into nervous silhouettes dressed completely in mourning. The laconic village amalgamated with the sky, already clothed in tortuous grey. Drunken flames from a few lamps flickered, but were unable to overcome the murkiness of the place. These lamps produced muted flashes and gleams that revealed a curtain of meager lines of water that, by the millions, flowed quickly looking to settle into the ground; stormy hours were foreshadowed.
A few people, who appeared to be many more, wandered around and the moon, overwhelmed by impatiently moving clouds, struggled to show its radiance. In the absence of thunder, the blizzard provided the sound for those moments, while the men’s silence was distracted by the noise of sniffles and coughs of those preparing to stuff their bodies into dark alleyways. Trostky’s eyes revealed that he hadn’t slept for days. But they needed to be aware of everything, even the nervous cockroaches that cautiously walked over the cobblestones; after all, on many a night their comrades had sufficed as a paltry meal.
“I’ll soon be mad, I know it… I curse everything, I curse it; I don’t want to be captured before Christmas,” he thought, stooping his body even further, trying to stretch his rags to cover himself better.
Cameo Trostky was barely twenty-seven years old and for four years he had been devotedly following the wanderings of those who dressed like Santa Claus at Christmastime in different places. Beset by anxiety and tiredness, he cushioned his head on his arms, and lay down as close to the wall as he could so as not to shiver until he fell asleep. The night was plagued by discomfort. He could not rest because of the damn racket from the blizzard and the jolts.
After sunrise, in a square full of farmers and laborers not too far from there, a good-for-nothing was pasting posters on the walls. A reward of five hundred pence was offered to anyone finding Cameo Trostky and handing him over to the Sekret. People crowded in to memorize Cameo’s face; imaginary and farcical scenes were enacted among the most ironic and burlesque of those gathered. The poster created fears for the unwary because they knew that being sketched there was equivalent to being given the death penalty after abominable torments; but others, ultimately quite a few, commiserated with that poster because they hated the Sekret. A mysterious dark-complexioned suntanned man with bulging eyes and dressed in purple eagerly watched the growing crowd. The good-for-nothing ceased to be important once he had received a few coins from the mysterious character, and was quietly engulfed by the crowd.
In the late afternoon, Cameo became aware of the posters. Luckily, apparently no one had recognized him; he nonetheless felt an indescribable emptiness in his belly and was covered in cold sweat.
“Damn, when did I become a criminal? When did I kill so many guys while looking for my mother’s murderer?” he wondered. Then he walked away, assaulted by the look on his own face on the poster, and entered a thick forest of pines. For the rest of the day, he remained vigilant and at the mercy of the abundant drops that made him shiver. The cold continued to be maddening and his wet clothes were poor advisors, yet his mind was constantly busy devising his strategy of revenge and escape. When night fell, he stealthily returned to the same place that had sheltered him with indifference the night before and slept there. The next morning, besieged by the posters and the foolish premonition that those beggars of the night would give him away, he once again quickened his escape. According to his calculations, he would have to walk no less than fifty miles along icy trails and steep roads to reach another town where perhaps the signs were not yet on display.
Three days later Cameo Trostky arrived at a hamlet. On the wayside, he saw a butcher’s shop where skinned goats were hanging on iron hooks. He charmingly presented himself as an expert goat skinner and managed to convince the butcher to let him sacrifice and skin forty goats over two days in exchange for letting him sleep there and obtain some clothes and hot food. His work would be outside, behind the shop, and under a makeshift shed; for him, it would be mean remaining hidden and away from the accusing posters. By the end of the day, his hands were tired from stabbing so much livestock, sacrificing them before skinning them. That night, he wearily collapsed on a wooden cot covered with brown leather with uneven white polka-dots, which the butcher had provided for him before locking him in.
As he massaged his hands, he bemoaned his naivety in writing down the names of his victims on the last page of a small book of Christmas carols, the same one his mother had been reading after a celebration held in Gotié’s main square on the night she was murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus.
“I should not have written their names, I shouldn’t have; now the Sekret is looking for me. I will deny that it was me; what an idiot I was when writing the list of my dead, but… maybe that booklet was lost and not even the Sekret has it, and… Then why is my face on posters in Gotié? They have surely found it,” he thought.
The remaining goats were to be slaughtered and he would have to leave. He finished early and was given warm clothes, having already received room and board. The day was fortunately sunny, although it remained cold and windy. Completely covered except for his eyes, he figured it was safe enough to walk around absorbing the evening before walking away from that hamlet for good. However, he froze in his tracks upon seeing the butcher who had hired him talking to someone holding a poster in their hands, who appeared to be agents of the Sekret. Leaping, he slipped through the back and into the forest again; his only purpose now was to return to Gotié regardless of the fact that it was covered with posters of his face. Being in Gotié on Christmas night was his only destination and purpose.
A sheet of newspaper covered in footprints fluttered along the ground in the town square, with a surprising headline: “Cameo Trostky Captured in Gotié.” In the following hours, people crowded around to compare the drawing on the poster to the detainee, debating the quality of the person who had sketched it based on a verbal description. However, the imaginary and farcical scenes were consummated among the most ironic and burlesque of those gathered; to the unsuspecting, the arrest afforded a certain breath of safety because now the murderer was behind bars, but to others, quite a few in the end, the arrest created even more sympathy due to growing resentment towards the Sekret.
Cameo Trostky took up his own defense in the absence of a lawyer, emphatically denying having written those names in the book of carols, which was presented as unequivocal proof of his crimes. He did admit before the jury, however, that said book had belonged to his mother before she was murdered. Throughout the trial Cameo made it his mission to establish that a man disguised as Santa Claus had murdered his mother years earlier, also insisting on his claims that his mother’s murderer had also killed the four Santas on previous Christmases. Based on these arguments, the jury became entangled between what was fair and what was unfair, between truth and lies, between understanding or punishment, and even felt empathy for Cameo. It was not a verdict of solidarity, but in the end, he was found guilty. The judge, who was to sentence him to the gallows, was moved to hand down a sentence that left everyone perplexed, openmouthed.
“Cameo Trostky is to be lobotomized. He will no longer remember anything, and his frustration will cease!”
Bewildered by such a mysterious announcement, Cameo sensed that it was less serious than the death sentence that would surely have been given, but neither he nor the trial attendees were able to understand it. In the following hours, he overheard a guard saying that a chisel would be stuck into his forehead to disconnect his emotions. The procedure would be done in front of the crowd, as soon as a specialist arrived. In the judge’s opinion, his life had been spared and he would be prevented from committing more crimes since he considered that his murders had been committed in a state of deep pain. Cameo begged for the death penalty, but was denied and the lobotomy was scheduled for Christmas Eve. Those who had sympathized with Trostky as they looked at the poster in Gotié’s town square, conspired several days later and quietly extracted him from the dungeon with the consent of a high-ranking guard. Without explanations or guilty parties, Cameo escaped and posters once again flooded the town offering an even higher reward.
In the municipality, public officials organized Christmas celebrations. Every precaution had been taken to prevent Trostky from murdering any man dressed as Santa Claus. As bait, the Sekret decided to disguise several of its best agents as Santa and would scatter them throughout the celebration. Meanwhile, Cameo remained hidden in the woods, his thoughts consumed now with his stubborn mission to discover the face of his mother’s murderer rather than continuing to kill innocent men. Once again reconstructing, for the thousandth time, the crime which only he had witnessed. He painstakingly, lucidly, and in great detail, reviewed each stab that was inflicted on his mother’s body while he was in a drunken stupor from the liquor given to him by that man during the celebration. During that exploration, he was able to visualize the killer’s skin, recall his weather-beaten cheekbones, and again see his hate-filled eyes that evoked endless death. All he recalled of the dagger was the shape of the bloody blade. His thoughts, as though guided by a revelation, were transported to the trial and focused on the chief of the Sekret who, in his eagerness during the prosecutor’s questioning, revealed his mad eyes as his voice eagerly called for the death sentence for the accused. Some of the accuser’s gestures were similar to those recalled from that fateful night. There was much to explore about these details because even his skin type indicated the influence of dry winds. However, he did not feel confident and resolved to return to the place where he had slept two nights earlier.
This time, he stood near a beggar who was already settled and half asleep. He surreptitiously elbowed his way near the man and tried to start a conversation with him. The terse antisocial man showed no interest in talking, so he moved on to another doorway where a couple of old people were chatting. Cameo was embarrassed to discover that they were women and apologized to them as he tried to leave, but they humbly invited him to stay, since they preferred to have a male to protect them from any stinker trying steal their stuff. They spoke in whispers about their lives and misery, and Cameo steered the conversation towards the sentencing of the Santa Claus murderer and his escape. One of them led him to believe that it had been the chief of the Sekret who had ordered the posters to be pasted in Gotié, and had paid the bum for the work, saying that she herself had seen him in the square that day. Cameo decided not to sleep near them, and went stealthily to a cobbled street where a house sat with fine wooden windows adorned with lanterns that produced a dim but sufficient light. Only his shadow was visible for a few seconds, then nothing.
The following day the Gotié newspaper announced one more tragedy: the chief of the Sekret had been assassinated. Next to his body there was a bloody Santa Claus costume and a short blade. It would later be known, per court records, that the Sekret chief had been linked to the murder of Cameo Trostky’s mother.
The village made an effort to find Cameo, calling for him to be pardoned, but Trostky never reappeared.