Arturo Lazaro





Somewhere (Very Specific) in Mexico

Officially, it was known as the Free and Sovereign State of Coahuila de Zaragoza. On the maps, it was usually shortened to Coahuila, a dutiful member of the United Mexican States.

The locals though, they knew who really owned it. Outside of a couple of the biggest cities, where the federales still felt safe enough to gather in large numbers, you kept your head to the ground and your ears closed to everyone except Los Zetas.

Especially after dark.

It was well past midnight on the outskirts of Piedras Negras. Many of its “black stone” coal mines, which had provided much of the starting wealth for the smaller border city, had been abandoned after corporations had dug too deep or lost too many workers down in the depths. Most of the mines were closed off to the public and left to night scavengers and other creatures that lurk in the dark and shun the light of day. Arturo hated it when he had to come out to whatever operation was going on in this one.

The coal dust just seeped into his clothes. It always took forever to get it out.

He was driving a “liberated” army truck down bumpy dirt roads, without the lights on. He seemed to have less trouble seeing in the dark than many of his compatriots, which is often why he had wheel duty. Two other men in black and green fatigues sat with AKs across their laps, supposedly keeping lookout. One was checking his phone, while the other smoked. Arturo looked quickly in the rear view mirror at their cargo. He scowled.

“Diego, I thought I told you to take of things back there,” he said in clipped Spanish. Phone man looked up.

“What?” he looked over his shoulder at the cargo. “Everything is still there.”

“It’s uneven. Again. There’s seven on the left and nine on the right.”

Diego shook his head. “Fuck you man, they’s fine.”

Arturo’s black gloves tightened on the steering wheel. “No, they are most certainly not fine. There is clearly a right and a wrong way for them to be, and they are currently wrong.”

“You know where we going man?” asked Diego incredulously. “The fuck this matters?”

“It matters to me. They need to be symmetrical for maximum fuel efficiency and balance, and because that is the proper way to do things.” When Diego shook his head and when back to his phone, Arturo raised his voice and shouted toward the cargo hold. “There needs to be eight on each side. Do you hear me? EIGHT! Right. This. Instant.

Quietly sobbing, the old woman got up from one line of handcuffed victims, and shuffled to the bench on the other side.

Arturo pushed out a breath. “Thank you, madam. I appreciate your contribution.”

To calm himself a bit, he started the recitation in his mind:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe,
that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac
you promised to show pity and compassion to all who,
loving and trusting you,
seek your help and protection.

As they drove through the blackness of the desert night, suddenly jagged shapes loomed up against the starlight, the empty outbuildings for the long abandoned mine. Arturo quickly flashed his headlights in a specific pattern. Getting shot by an overzealous sniper would unnecessarily complicate a textbook delivery. A return pattern blinked from ahead and to the left.

Arturo pulled up to small group of several gun-wielding men with black masks and vests heavy with ammunition. “You are rushing the second part of the signal,” said Arturo. “No shorter than 1 second breaks.”

There was a pause, and then harsh laughter from several voices. “It’s el contador!” “Ah, chiquita lobo is here!”

“Yes, very droll gentlemen. Can you point me to the drop off point?”

“Are you sure you can see over the steering wheel to drive? Are you sitting on a box of some kind?” More laughter.

Urg. This was the machismo thing again. It was quite tiring. But experience had shown that unless he responded in kind or did something, he’d be held up here for at least another 90 seconds, and that was intolerable.

“Yes, in fact I am,” he replied dryly. “It’s a box of photographs of your mother locked in passionate sexual congress with a donkey. I’m selling them for 50 pesos a picture.”

He pulled away on time.

When Arturo pulled up to the entrance of the old coal mine, two things immediately struck him as wrong. First was that there were already four other trucks there of varying sizes, but each as large as the old federale troop transport he was driving. This was completely out of the ordinary. He’d been doing these monthly cargo runs almost from the beginning of his….forced employment with Los Zetas, and he had already thought it odd that his cargo this time was almost twice as large as normal. Now to find four other trucks? The pattern was off. More than that, as he reviewed the numbers in his head, there wasn’t the resources budgeted to this site to support a kidnapping/extortion base of a size necessary to handle that many people. What was going on?

The second problem was the slapdash parking jobs of the previous drivers. There was a variance of almost four feet in the spaces between each truck! Gritting his teeth, he did some quick math estimates and parked the average of 5.75 feet from the one on his left.

As they were unloading the cargo, Arturo took a calculated risk and decided to ask Diego if he know what was going on.

“You didn’t know? Garcia has something big going on this time. Something about Lasombra.”

Garcia was the local cartel boss and the bane of Arturo’s existence. The grunting, sweating, greasy pig was almost as unbearable as his terrible bookkeeping. He’d also lead the raid two years ago that killed Arturo’s father and left him nearly an indentured servant.

“Who’s this Lasombra, besides someone with a flare for the dramatic?”

“Fuck if I know man,” grunted Diego, pushing the captives forward. A middle-aged woman started crying and Diego clipped her head with the butt of his rifle.

“That was completely unnecessary,” Arturo said disapprovingly. “What was the point? She was perfectly in line with the rest of them and now she’s sobbing even louder because you just attempted to bestow a mild concussion.”

Diego grinned, a rictus of teeth rotted by tequila and total ignorance of the field of dental hygiene. “Was fun.”

Arturo blanched and took a step back. “Fun is a pointless endeavor and no motivation to do anything. Especially violence.” Diego rolled his eyes and moved ahead to get away from the lecture. “If you are going to employ violence, then-”

One of the captives, a teenage boy, took this as a distraction and bolted away out toward the desert. Arturo quickly pulled a pistol from his pocket, aimed, and fired. It took 3 bullets. The first simply missed. He wasn’t the best shot. The second grazed the upper arm. The third smashed into the left elbow, shattering the joint in a spray of blood and bone fragments. The boy collapsed, screaming.

“-then do it sensibly,” continued Arturo, walking over as shouts rose up around him. “Just because someone had the basic desire to flee for their own protection isn’t a reason to kill them, so don’t shoot for the back. You’re destroying an asset of the organization. Some might aim for the leg to slow them down, but then you are hauling cargo around manually and getting your suit mussed. So don’t shoot to kill, or shoot to main. But shooting to hurt, well,” he crouched over the whimpering figure. “In most cases, it’s just sensible.”

The boy was babbling, and as Arturo hauled him to his feet (from the right side, and at arm’s length), he realized the boy was saying something familiar:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe,
that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac
you promised to show pity and compassion to all who,
loving and trusting you,
seek your help and protection.

“Sorry friend,” he said matter-of-fact as he walked the boy back.. “If you’re using that to try and ask for help, you’re doing it wrong. No one is going to answer. There’s no God watching over you in the sky, no guardian spirit sitting in the shadows, no avenging angels hiding in the light. It’s all just us men. All the evil and all the pain and all the suffering in the world is just us men.”

“We don’t need any help.”

As he pushed the boy back in line and walked with them toward yawning blackness of the cave mouth, he realized that the prayer was spreading to the rest of the captives in a muttered discordant chorus. He gritted his teeth and was about to shout when they all came together on the words, reciting it in a unified, sonorous drone.

Normally that would have calmed him, but somehow it made him feel worse.

As they entered the darkened cave entrance, there was a certain amount of shuffling in the dark. The cartel wanted minimal lights in the area to avoid attracting attention, and at one point it was so dark even Arturo, last in line, couldn’t see the captive in front of him. All he heard was the prayer, and try as he might he couldn’t stop his own thoughts from aligning to the words. Suddenly, he had a strange sensation, as if someone was walking right behind him, looking over his shoulder. When the light from the cavern ahead started to illuminate the tunnel, he looked quickly behind him

But there was nothing in the blackness.

Muttering filtered out of the cavern ahead, and Arturo’s eyes went wide at what he saw. There were….87 captives, some laying on the floor, others chained together. Over a dozen cartel enforcers kept watch. And Garcia was there, in his bulging, stained white silk shirt and ludicrously tight leather pants. Every time Arturo saw Garcia, he had to remind himself of his own rules about violence. He was speaking to someone to his left. Arturo leaned around one of the guards.

When Arturo came upon a mess, be it of a physical, mental, or emotional nature, it hurt him to behold it. He’d tried describing it once or twice to others, who reacted as he did when others attempted to discuss their emotions: with confusion and disinterest. But the fact was that he had a sort of synesthesia when he looked at, say, a filthy room. It looked to him like the sound of nails on a chalkboard. The idea of it tasted like salt and bile and rot. His eyes felt like they were being dragged along coarse sandpaper.

The man standing there, average height, black shirt and American jeans, was all that and more to Arturo. He was wrong. Just a glance rocked Arturo back on his heels. He squinted and ground the heel of his hand into his temple, looking away, which dulled but did not remove the pain.

“Who is that,” he hissed to the nearest enforcer. The man looked, and frowned.

“Watch what you say, el contador. That is Lasombra.”

Arturo was not having a good night. Patterns were off, expectations were being violated, accounting data wasn’t making sense, and he was getting coal dust in his clothes. He’d also shot someone, but that was a minor nuisance. And then there was him. Lasombra. Arturo had avoided looking at him after the initial primal reaction of wrong, but even being in the same area made his skin crawl. His fingers quickly twisted through his rosary beads in a rhythmic pattern as he brought control back to his thoughts.

The other Zetas did not seem to have such feelings about this Lasombra. They treated him with respect, almost reverence. Despite his repulsion, Arturo had moved through the cavern to where he could overhear. Garcia the pig was sweating buckets as he assured the man that everything was in place below.

“Very well. I must anoint myself and ready the space. Take the sacrifices to the antechamber and prepare them as I instructed.”

Sacrifices? What in the devil was going on here?! Arturo thought. This was looking less and less like the kidnapping/extortion base it was listed as in the cartels hidden books and-Just figuring that out now, piltzintli? -that didn’t make sense.

A new group of guards came in from the tunnels that lead deeper into the mine. Unlike the standard Zetas enforcer, who was well equipped but in a patchwork way, these guards were in black and red uniforms with custom looking gear. They are Lasombra’s personal guard. They must be Lasombras personal guard.

Well, we are in a cave piltzintli, so I suppose I should expect an echo. Or it’s this big empty head of yours. All these organized shelves…

Arturo paused in his creeping down the tunnel after the captives and their keepers, shook his head briefly, then kept going.

Mmm-hmm. Lots of numbers here. Lots of lines, and rules. Couple of these shelves seem a bit light though. Compassion is pretty dusty. And I can’t even find empathy. Where you keepin’ that one, Artie?

He stopped, his neck tensing. His right eye twitched as beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

Lots of monochrome, Mr. Black and White. Need some color in here. How about…blue?

He had to cover his mouth to keep from gasping aloud as his vision exploded with color. Sky, cobalt, cerulean, turquoise, aquamarine and more overlaid everything in his vision in a chaotic cacophony of clashing color.

Still trying to ignore me, cihuachichi?

Several minutes later, against his better judgement, Arturo was talking to himself. At least, he hoped he was.

“Because while some sort of mental break or auditory hallucination, while extremely unlikely, is at least plausible,” he hissed. “I admit I am not entirely certain why my internal dialogue would need to claim to be Our Lady of Guadalupe or speak in a rich, warm, female voice-”

Mmmm-hmmm came a female voice that was growing increasingly frosty.

“—but the possibility that you…this…whatever is some sort of supernatural event is patently ridiculous. The universe is a cold, uncaring, mechanistic creation of rules and laws governed primarily by random chance and human behavior is derived-”

Oops, I just knocked over this shelf full of e’s. Sorry bout that tlamacatzintli. Do tell me more about your theories while I pick these up.

“Argh! I am capabl- abl- going to sp- sp- say that things ar- is not sup- magic.” He paused to review what he had just said, but gritted his teeth and refused to acknowledge it. “Things as that do not match logic and the world as I know it!”

Then why I hear you calling out to me, piltzintli? There you go, most of em are back. Might have accidently mixed in a couple of 3s though. They look a lot alike.

“What, the prayer?” he snorted quietly as he peered around another corner. The captives had been taken down several ramps deep into the bowels of the abandoned coal mine. The hallways were layered in sheets of black shadow, with sputtering lamps that weakly blew them back and forth.

Yes, genius,” she said mockingly in English before switching back to Spanish. The prayer. There’s a lot of shelves here piled high with communions, confessions, services, even a good old fashioned tent revival or two. Whoo, I hear gears grinding, and is that a burning smell? What’s a matter now?

“Stop. Mixing. Languages!” he said through gritted teeth.

Aw, coneatzintli, you need to separate out your food too?

“Ritual is an important part of human existence,” he answered, ignoring that comment. “It helps to organize the mind, marking the passage of time and specific events. It calms and clarifies and provides context. But to think that it has any oth3r purpose,” his voice dripped scorn, “to think that one could coerce the Universe into doing what you wanted just by begging is patently ludicrous.”

I think I see the problem here the voice had turned thoughtful. Prayer is about asking for help, about saying you can’t do something yourself. About admitting you was wrong about something and asking for forgiveness. I found a lot a’ those concepts in here. They seem to be all stuffed in a dumpster marked “Weakness”.

Dumpster looks like it was lit on fire at some point too.

The ramps opened into one of the deeper levels of the mine. Stepping lightly around some old mining equipment, Arturo spied a number of the elite looking men standing guard around a tunnel entrance covered with a black drape.

You gonna need my help though. This place, there some bad things happening. You…Eh, not exactly acolyte material, but as the nortenas say, the pickings here are slim on the ground. Now, listen: There are tendrils here you need to avoid or they’ll-

“Would. You. Shut. Up!” he hissed. “I need to concentrate and your endless mixed-up prattling about hocus-pocus and folk superstition are distracting! I have to find out what they meant by ‘sacrifice.’ If this is some rogu3 split of the cartel that is wasting perfectly good human capital through some fever-cult claptrap, then I need to report that back!”

He actually froze after that outburst, feeling a bit foolish that he was scared of this hallucination and what could happen next. There was a long pause.

Fine. Awesome, coneatzintli. If that’s the way you want it. It’s not like I can beat some respect into you right now.

“Thank you. Now can I g-”

He can, though.

Arturo turned just in time to catch the rifle butt in the forehead.

Arturo came to when someone threw a splash of bootleg tequila on his face. His eyes, nose, and the cut on his forehead burst into flame. He was tied to a chair in a small storeroom,where a single bare bulb swung a cone of light around drunkenly.

Garcia’s phlegmatic laugh echoed in his ears.

“Well well, if it isn’t el contador,” the voice is guttural, slurring. “There are no papers down here for you, no books to rub your dick on because you prefer paper to a woman’s touch. For you I think, there is only trouble.”

Arturo didn’t bother to struggle against the ropes. “What is going on here, Garcia? What is happening with those people? What crazy side business are you trying to run here?”

“Side business?!” again, the gurgling laugh. “This is the heart of Los Zetas, little fool. This is what makes us strong. Lasombra. He is our ace in the hole. He is our silent partner. And we don’t need you” his fleshy fist swung out and slammed into Arturo’s face “getting in the way.”

“Still,” he grunted, punching again, this time to the gut, “you’ve been helpful to Lasombra for a while now. Delivering him what he needs on a monthly basis. He’s very hungry.”

Sorry coneatzintli, but it looks like this has to get pounded into you. Lasombra is very bad, an amocualli-tetotopixqui, a necromancer.

“But…they were kidnap victims,” muttered Arturo through bloody teeth. “Capital.”

“They were just snacks for Lasombra,” laughed Garcia, blackening Arturo’s right eye. “All those months of deliveries that you so carefully brought us!”

The amocualli-tetotopixqui cares nothing for life. People have no value to him, no value at all, except as potential deaths. I see lots of numbers in here that you keep trying to put on the value of life, but you’d need new ones for this. Negative numbers.

“I didn’t know,” mumbled Arturo. “Not my fault. Not my fault they got caught. Not my-”

Oh, I see. That where you hiding things now? Hold on, this locked file cabinet got knocked open after that left hook to the kisser. What’s this that fell out? Something about a “Gabriella”, hmm?

The family clinging together, eyes wide. The federale storming through the neighborhood outside. The two cartel members, trying to keep everyone quiet. The girl, barely a teen, had pulled out of her mother’s arms and lunged for the door. He had sunk his blade to the hilt into her back. But it wasn’t the door she was leaping to, but her baby brother toddling out of the bedroom. She was no threat, no value, but he had…had…

“No,” he groaned. “No, no…no….”

Garcia laughed and motioned to the darkness. Two of Lasombra’s guards oozed out of the shadows. “Take chiquita lobo here and add him to the ritual. 88 seems a much more auspicious number, no?”

As they dragged him from the room, the Lady’s voice started to fade along with everything else.

Tsk. It seems like you’ve got this well in hand, Artie. Everything under control. I’ll wait out here.

Just call if you need me.

When his senses returned, he was in Hell.

At least, that’s what it seemed like. He was lying down being bounced and jostled. Everything hurt. His arms and legs wouldn’t work, but he could move his eyes and neck around. There was wailing and crying all around him, a searing copper tang to the air, and from somewhere down past his feet intensely agonized screaming.

The victims were being laid two at a time on a conveyor that ran to a two-ton wheeled rock crusher, designed to take the larger stones mined out down here and pulverize them into 2 inch gravel, much easier for transport. Feet first, at about 1 mile an hour, the sacrifices were being slowly pulped while conscious.

Arturo tried to move but couldn’t, and it seemed none of the others could either. Was it a drug or something? They weren’t physically bound. But they could babble, and scream, and cry, and beg, and they were doing all of that now in a terrible cyclone of noise that would have driven him crazy if he wasn’t about to die.

The necromancer was working his ritual in the center of the room. He hurt so badly to look at Arturo couldn’t do it for more than a second.

Arturo strained again, futility. A new pair of voices started the intense screaming from ahead. Closer now. Panic and chaos started to storm through his mind.

He needed to focus. He needed to call on his Lady of Guadalupe. He tried to recite the prayer to help him focus, but the noise of all the others around him was overwhelming. The noise of all the others… All the others…

He tried to speak, but it came out as a croak. He spit blood and tried again.

“Pray…” he whispered.

“Pray,” he said.

“Pray!” he shouted.

“PRAY!” he screamed, his voice cracking. “Madre de Dios, for all that you love! Pray! Pray to Guadalupe!”

He started:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin of Guadalupe,
that in your apparitions on Mount Tepeyac

Others around him, panicked and desperate, started to join in.

you promised to show pity and compassion to all who,

The prayer spread up and down the conveyer. It began to echo through the room.

loving and trusting you,

His mind pulled back into control under the influence of the unity of purpose. His focus tightened. He could feel her close by. He reached.

seek your help and protection.

Who seeks help and protection?

“These people, they need-”

Who seeks help and protection?

“You have to do something, we’re all going to be-”


“I DO!” he screamed, his back arching with the effort. “I SEEK HELP AND PROTECTION!”




“I DO! PLEASE! Please. Please….” his voice trailed off into a hoarse whisper.

Pocheoa, son. Why didn’t you just say so? Let me show you something.

A crack appeared in the world, which spread, spider-webbing, until his Universe shattered and fell to pieces, revealing what actually lay beyond.

Lasombra was a terrifying shape of shifting black webs and twisted limbs. His chest, or his center of mass, was cracked open, revealing a swirling void of black and indigo energy. Dozens and dozens of spindly, chitinous limbs of ebony and gristle spread out from him, clogging the room. They clung to the living victims, locking their arms and legs in place. They speared the agonized spirits as they are torn from their bodies in the crusher, drawing them in like wriggling grubs.

This is bad, piltzintli. He is full of the energy of death and despair, and he’s gathering so much more. But we have a chance. He’s near the end of the ritual, and while I weep for those souls who are lost, they have put him in a place of weakness. He’s at his most vulnerable, trying to keep everything together, juggling all the forces, so he can release whatever magics he is preparing.

“What…what can I do?” croaked Arturo.

You can do what you always do. You need to restore order. Clean up this mess. But do it soon, piltzintli, the wheel approaches. Focus on what’s binding you.

Dazed, Arturo looked down at his own chest, where the grotesque insectoid tendril gripped him. It repulsed him. It repelled him. It enraged him.

Sanctify it. Cleanse the darkness away. This, you know how to do.

The tendril shook, then started to pull apart, separating into fragments and components and then disintegrating back up toward Lasombra.

Ah…beautiful… Her sigh was beyond relieved; it was nearly ecstatic. You got no idea how long I’ve been here, waiting for this. Now, you got the idea, huh? Time to take out the trash.

Arturo pulled himself to his feet and stepped off the conveyor as the air crackled around him. Lasombra was powerful, experienced, and dangerous, but he was trying to do so many things at once: maintain his own necrotic power, keep the sacrifices from freeing themselves, pin the souls of those who had already died, maintain the building magic that he was working. Arturo knew that multitasking was another word for inefficiency and impotence. He myopically focused on his single task relentlessly: grab a tendril, tear it apart, separate the components, seal them away. Grab a tendril, tear it apart, separate the components, seal them away. Grab a tendril…

He became aware of a whisper and a purr, which he initially ignored. But the whisper became more insistent, and so he went against his own rule and split his attention to try and discern it.


Why was Our Lady of Guadalupe whispering? He allowed a brief moment to focus fully on her.

- everything is unravelling! Pocheoa boy!” she shouted over the deep rumbling and the ear-piercing screeching You need to run! coneuh, my child, get your ass moving!

Lasombra’s magics were collapsing in on themselves. The cavern was groaning as enraged spirits and waves of discordant mystic power cracked stone and warped steel. Leaving a task unfinished burned him briefly, but he fled.

He sat on a hillside as the first glimmer of dawn crept over horizon behind him and watched the continued slow collapse of the mine into a massive sinkhole with his one good eye. Very few had gotten out.

Not bad, coneuh.

Not good either, mind you. If this were a university class, you’d be getting a C-. You’d better hope the professor accepts extra credit or you’ll need to start making eyes at her, eh?

“Not bad?” he wheezed. “Not…bad? What, in all the chaos, and insanity, and mess that just occurred, could possibly have been anything BUT bad? Even if I ignore the fact that apparently the world is so poorly managed that it has allowed Dia de los Muertos wizards and an iconic semi-catholic saint to exist-”

Ain’t no saint, and I mean that in both senses of the word.

“- do you know what kind of trouble I will be in with Los Zetas if this gets out?” He gripped his temples with both hands. “Do you know the resources that El Gori II spends to take revenge on those who cross him? I’ve seen the ledgers!!”

Sounds like you need to go to ground a bit, coneuh. I hear that California is nice this time of year. But don’t go too far north.

You’d like that wouldn’t you he thought. Probably has a range or something, wants to keep me close. California is a good idea, but I’m going north. Maybe as far as San Francisco.

Arturo wearily stood up and looked down at himself in the morning light. His suit was torn and wrinkled, as well as covered in blood, sweat, dried tequila, tears, and coal dust.

Looking forward to this, boy. Looking forward said Guadalupe, over the sound of his horrified shriek.