By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
On his way back to Alvarado to catch a bus going south he passed a botanica and decided to stop in. A bell rang when he entered. It was a small, dusty shop, cluttered with votive candles and incense and icons. A statue of Saint Simón, in a broad-brimmed hat, black suit, and red tie, sat on the counter between the Virgin of Guadalupe and a hooded Santa Muerte.
Oscar’s mother had often visited Simón’s shrine in Zunil to ask for things like luck in the lottery or a new kitchen table. Oscar always thought it was a bit silly, a comfort for superstitious housewives and old men. The church didn’t even recognize Simón after all. Today, though, he was happy to see something that reminded him of home. Others had left offerings of tequila and cigars, but Oscar had nothing to give. Nonetheless, he bowed his head and mumbled a quick prayer.
“Oh powerful Saint Simón, please help me and protect me from any dangers. Oh Judas Simón, I call you brother in my heart because you are everywhere and you are always with me.”
The owner of the shop parted a curtain of beads and stepped through it, a tall, skinny man in a long robe and feathered headdress.
“Can I help you, my son?” he asked.
“I was just speaking to Saint Simón.”
“You seem troubled. Would you like to come in back for a cleansing? Only $20, and you will feel much better.”
“I have no money, sir.”
“I am a poor man.”
“I see, but you must understand that you can’t get something without giving something. Especially from Saint Simón.”
“You smile when you say that?” Oscar snapped. “You should be ashamed to be living in this world.”
The owner scowled and pointed. “Your nose,” he said.
Oscar raised his hand, and his fingers came away covered with blood.
It was raining when he walked out. He squeezed his nostrils shut with the napkin the store owner had given him and tilted his head to let the fat drops cool his face. The pain inside him had returned more intense than ever, but he kept moving, afraid that if he stopped, he wouldn’t get started again.
Los Angeles was not its haughty self in the rain. It was like a wet cat: humiliated, confused. People stepped gingerly on suddenly slippery sidewalks, looking like they’d been lied to. The gutters, clogged with garbage, overflowed, and the water puddled in busy intersections.
Oscar waited for the bus with a mumbling loco and a couple of old ladies who shared an umbrella. The rain came down harder, the drops slamming into the pavement like suicides. Oscar zipped up his jacket and pulled the hood over his head.
The bus arrived, a great hissing, snorting beast throwing up silver sheets of spray. Oscar climbed aboard and pushed his way to the back. It was too hot, there were too many people. He winced every time he brushed against someone, and his whole body was slick with rancid sweat. A few stops later a seat opened up, and he fell into it.
Raindrops chased one another across the window. Though it was only noon, it had grown so dark outside, all the cars had their lights on. Oscar was having trouble breathing. It felt like someone was standing on his chest. For the first time he was frightened.
He couldn’t remember where he was. When he closed his eyes he saw heaven, when he opened them, the rain. The bus stopped, and the devil came through the doors. It walked down the aisle toward Oscar. It raised its sword. Oscar thought of Maribel and Alex, heaven and the rain.
“The Lord is with me,” he shouted.
The devil swung its sword, and lighting flashed, turning everyone into ghosts. Oscar’s eyes rolled back. He fell into a black pit, down and down and — oh, God, the thunder in his head.
Excerpted from THIS WICKED WORLD | By RICHARD LANGE | © 2009 by Richard Lange, all rights reserved. | Reprinted with permission from Little, Brown and Company | Publication date June 30 | 416 pages | $23.99 hardcover