Thursday, September 13, 2007




Alebrije Part 1



- Tales from Pedro's Cab -

Story by
Steve Conrique-Ross
Art by
Richard Dominguez

Edited by I.C. Ross
Warrior Nun Areala created by Ben Dunn

Revised version of a story that originally appeared in Mangazine #12, published by Antarctic Press.

- - - - - - -

Hey, pretty lady! Come, get in my cab! I'll take you anywhere you want to go.

You don't mind if I smoke this cigar, do you? I mean, with all the smog here in Mexico City, it's not like this little thing is gonna--hey!--he cut me off! Hold on, lady!

You need fast reflexes to drive in this city: traffic laws are more like suggestions here. But I'm used to it--my family moved here from Sinaloa when I was very young. I've been driving these streets since my feet could reach the pedals.

Are you from around here, lady? I didn't get a good look at you--I can usually tell locals from turistas on sight. Something tells me that you've been away, and maybe you're just now returning home.

Maybe you would like one of my ten-peso tours. And just for you, lady-no extra charge. Mexico City is so big that even the locals see things they hadn't noticed before.

You know, a lot of gabachos think Mexico is just one big desert, with only tumbleweeds, cactus, and sleepy little villages. Or, they think the whole country is like Tijuana--God help us. But Mexico City is one of the biggest capitals in the world. Some modern buildings have been used in science fiction movies.

Hey--talking about science fiction, have you seen the news the last few days? It's been the feature story on Primer Impacto every single day.

I--myself--was directly involved in the situation, from the beginning. I know no-one recognizes me without my mask, but, I'm Trompeto! That's right, that's me: La Loca Sanchez's trumpet-playing sidekick. Our costumes are mostly for show biz--we don't have secret identities, or anything.

You see, by day, I'm Pedro Alvarez: Cab Driver, at your service. My grandpa--God rest his soul--always said to keep a day job to fall back on, so I do.

But when I'm not driving my cab, I have another job, with the Frijoles del Oro Company. I'm one of their sponsored superheroes. Maybe you saw me on one of the ads that are all over the city?

So anyway, no matter what you heard on the news, what really happened is this:

It was December twelfth, the night of Las Mananitas. As is our tradition, thousands made the pilgrimage--some even crawled for miles on bloody knees--to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to pay homage to the Goddess of Mexico.


On that night, inside the church, crowds of people shuffled down the center aisle, carrying the pictures and statues of the Virgin that they usually pray to in their homes.


They walked past the actual tilma worn by Juan Diego. The miraculous image of the Virgin is still on that tilma, to this day.


Many celebrities have special seats in the church, and in the area reserved for Mexico's most famous masked wrestlers, I sat with my friend--and former "Queen of Lucha Libre"--La Loca Sanchez.

So Lucero and her mariachis had just finished serenading Our Lady with a ranchera, when the unthinkable happened.

LuceroMariachiCU.jpg LuceroMariachiConfetti.jpg

Through the main doors, over the heads of the swarms of people, flew two alebrijes! You know what those are, lady?


They're those little folk art, papier-mache, monster-creatures that are sold to turistas. You know--some of them look like bug-eyed dragons or demons or animals; they're painted bright colors, like pink or green or purple; and they're covered with lots of tiny details, like dots or scales.


So two of those alebrije-things were alive. And they were big ones, too--they were about four feet high. Flapping their bat-like wings, they fluttered into the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. And they weren't graceful flyers, either--they sort of just tumbled through the air.


Well, you can imagine the panic that caused. But it gets worse--they fluttered right up to the sacred image of Our Lady, took Her from the wall, and carried Her off!

People were screaming and running in every-which-direction. I thought I would go deaf!

And then, legendary wrestlers Mil Mascaras and Blue Demon jumped into the action.


They shielded old ladies and children with their bodies and herded them out of the church.

As the alebrijes carried the Virgin toward the exit, La Loca Sanchez made one of her high-flying leaps off the back of one of the pews.

She caught one by its foot. Together, they flew a short distance over the crowd. But when the alebrije crashed through a window, La Loca was smashed into the wall beneath it--she let go, and just slid downward.

Luckily, another wrestler--Tinieblas, el Gigante--was standing just beneath her.


Unluckily, he's six-one, and she's six-three-he caught her, but they both went down hard.


Those wrestlers may be Mexico's superheroes, but they're only human, you know?

I tried to see where the alebrijes were headed, but I had a hard time seeing over everyone's heads, and the crowd kept shoving me. So, I did my best to calm the people around me. . .


- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

High tech circuits hummed behind wooden panels; control panels were hidden in a heavy oak desk. Father Gomez's study was patterned after M's office, which was appropriate, since he used it to brief Magic Priests and Warrior Nuns on dangerous missions that were worthy of James Bond.

However, Sister Shannon--Warrior Nun Areala--did not toss her habit onto the hat rack, nor did she exchange witty double-entendres with the receptionist. Without so much as a knock, the Warrior Nun strode into Father Gomez's study.

"Ah! Sister Shannon, I've been expecting you. Please, have a seat." Father Gomez indicated the leather-upholstered chair in front of his desk, and then sat in his own heavily padded swivel chair.

Usually kind and laid-back, the middle-aged, balding Puerto Rican priest was well-loved by his New York parishioners. He also commanded a great deal of respect from the Warrior Nuns who served under him, due to his intensity when battling demonic forces.

Sister Shannon sensed that Father Gomez's intensity was unusually high. Without wasting any time on niceties, he asked, "What do you know about the Virgin of Guadalupe?"

"Not much," she began, collecting her memories. "As you know, the story is not widely-taught in Catechism classes, except maybe in Hispanic neighborhoods."

The light reflected off of Father Gomez's spectacles, which made his eyes appear to glow. It gave Sister Shannon the uncomfortable feeling that she was under interrogation.

Then Sister Shannon recited:

"In 1531, Mexico had been conquered by the Spanish. There was a big push to convert the natives to Catholicism. On December twelfth, one of the Indians, who had been given the Spanish name Juan Diego, passed a hill called Tepeyac on his way to church.

"There, he heard a female voice call his name. When he looked up, he saw a beautiful, dark-skinned teen-age girl, draped in shining blue robes. The girl spoke Aztec, and told Juan Diego that she was the Mother of God, and that she wanted a church built on that hill for her Son.


"Juan Diego passed the message on to the local bishop, but the bishop wanted a sign to prove that he was telling the truth.

"Juan Diego returned to the hill, to convey the bishop's answer. There he found several white roses, which were out-of-season for that time of year. The apparition appeared again, told him to pick the roses, gather them in his poncho, and take them to the bishop. And he did.

"When Juan Diego opened his cloak, the white roses spilled out, and the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was imprinted on the poncho's fabric. Those signs got results: they built that Basilica, and Juan Diego's poncho is on display inside."


Father Gomez cracked a barely-perceptible smile, and nodded slightly.

"There are other legends, about the garment itself," Sister Shannon continued. "Some of the color dyes in the image defy identification. The poncho's fabric is similar to that of a potato sack; it should have deteriorated centuries ago. And yet, it has remained intact for nearly five hundred years; despite hundreds of people handling it, chemicals being spilled on it, and exposure to the elements. And--some people say--the image of Juan Diego is reflected in the Virgin's eyes."


Father Gomez raised a hand to interrupt. "Excellent. I see you've been watching the Spanish-language channels again?"

"Yes. I saw what happened at the Basilica. I knew that it would affect me, somehow."

"Not just you--but millions of Catholics who have adopted Our Lady as part of their Catholic faith. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of hope to many Hispanic people. Take away hope, and people will give in to despair, and then they'll start to do desperate things.

"In addition to the Virgin-related riots in Latin America, there have been serious problems in Latino neighborhoods here in the States. At the current rate of escalation, Southern California, New Mexico, and Texas could be war zones within a week. In a month, this whole hemisphere might be torn apart by internal strife.

"So you see, this mission isn't just about rescuing a holy artifact: it's about pacifying fellow Catholics, restoring their hope and peace-of-mind, and preventing them from hurting themselves, and each other."

"I see," said Sister Shannon. "I'm a little embarrassed: until now, I hadn't considered the size of the Latino population living in the United States."

Then she asked, "So what are the Mexican Warrior Nuns doing about the situation?"

Father Gomez shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I'm afraid," he said, "there are no Mexican Warrior Nuns."

Sister Shannon was surprised, but before she could say anything, Father Gomez continued, "Although most of the Mexican people are Catholic, the Mexican government is uncomfortable with our Church having an armed militia in their country, even though our weapons are only used for spiritual warfare.

"Given the extenuating circumstances, we've made special arrangements for one Warrior Nun--you--to team up with one of Mexico's national heroes and solve this problem."

"So I get to work with one of those stocky masked wrestlers?" chuckled Sister Shannon. "I don't mind working with El Santo--'The Saint'--but I'm not comfortable teaming up with someone who calls himself Blue Demon."

"Actually, her name is Loca Sanchez. And, even though she used to be a masked wrestler, a very reliable source has told me that Maria Adelita 'La Loca' Sanchez is a good Catholic girl, who would be honored to 'show you the ropes,' as it were."

Sister Shannon stared at Father Gomez in disbelief; she was no stranger to the fantastic or the supernatural, but this mission was becoming surreal.

Sister Shannon knew that, in order to succeed in a foreign culture, she would have to smile, observe, learn--and then act. Practicing her smile, she stood up.

Father Gomez smiled back. "I am aware that aspects of this mission will seem odd to someone who didn't have a Latino upbringing. I'm pleased that you're taking it well, and I know that you will learn to adapt to your surroundings very quickly--for you are, after all, a first-rate Warrior Nun."

Then Father Gomez rose from his chair, and handed her a Spanish phrase book.

"You have three hours to pack, and brush up on your Spanish," he said, concluding the briefing. "Vatican Three takes off for Mexico City at zero-nine-hundred."

Sister Shannon bowed slightly and said, "Gracias, Padre."

Father Gomez, acting strangely restrained, waved with one hand, and dug into his pocket with the other.

After Sister Shannon left the room, he pulled out his keys--which dangled on a Virgin of Guadalupe keychain.


He kissed the image of the Virgin. "You commanded me to send my best one to fight alongside your champion, My Lady," he whispered. "It's in your hands, now."


Vatican Three landed at Mexico City's Benito Juarez airport without incident.

Although she had the appropriate permits and papers for her sword and other weapons, it still took two hours for Sister Shannon to get through customs.


She had lost her left forearm in a battle with demons, and usually wore a prosthetic replacement that was nearly indistinguishable from a real limb. However, the Warrior Nun had opted to arrive in Mexico prepared for action; she had brought her bulky, armor-plated gauntlet with the glowing green gem. Her dangerous-looking cybernetic forearm had been the head customs officer's cause for concern.

At the front of the line, a young, dark-skinned, barrel-chested man was screaming into a cell phone while arguing with another customs officer.

They were speaking in Spanish, too fast for Sister Shannon to fully understand the problem. It appeared that the barrel-chested man was trying to bring undesirable printed matter into the country. She was also able to surmise that the man worked for a store, the magazines were supposed to be for stock, and whoever was on the other end of the phone was the man's boss.

The boss must have said something that made the man smile. He abruptly stopped arguing, and turned off his phone. With a sly grin, he withstood an onslaught of verbal abuse from the customs officer.

Sister Shannon was cleared, and her papers were stamped. She walked past the now-docile troublemaker as the officer re-packaged books and magazines with covers that made the nun blush.

Before the box could be confiscated, a terrified crowd stampeded around a nearby corner. "Alebrije! Alebrije!" could be heard over otherwise unintelligible cries.

The Warrior Nun pushed through the ever-increasing rush of bodies, against the flow of panicked human traffic. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the barrel-chested man take advantage of the confusion: he grabbed his box of magazines, and got lost in the crowd.

Sister Shannon rounded a corner, and found herself in the airport's main lobby.

There, she saw an enormous, nine-foot, dragon-like creature; it looked like animatronic, papier-mache folk art. When it snapped at anyone who tried to run past it, Sister Shannon realized that the dragon-creature was alive and dangerous.

She drew her sword and charged the creature, just as a tall woman and a short man walked through the main entrance.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

La Loca Sanchez and I walked into that airport ready to chew chicle and kick butt, and we were all out of chicle.

People think La Loca has that cool swagger because she's so sure of herself, but it's really a hip injury from her wrestling days that never healed right.

So anyway, we're standing there, in the doorway, and here's what we saw:

People screaming and running all over the place, just like at the church a few nights before; some giant, dragon-like, alebrije-thing; and some nun, hacking away at it with a broadsword.

Right away, La Loca climbed onto a nearby counter. She didn't tell me what the plan was, because she always uses the same plan for everything: jump on top of whatever's causing trouble, and try to wrestle it to the ground. And most of the time, it works.


La Loca did a perfect back flip, and landed on the creature's neck--but the wrestling part was more of a problem, this being our first nine-foot, papier-mache dragon and all.

I'm not sure if La Loca really thought she was going to stop that dragon, but she did distract it. While it thrashed around, trying to get her off its back, I ducked-and-rolled myself into position.

And then I--Trompeto--did my thing: I blew into my golden sonic trumpet, and unleashed the loudest, highest note that can be heard by human ears!

I thought that the noise would hurt the creature's ears, and hoped that maybe the force from the sound waves would knock it for a loop.

But no: my sonic blast cracked the hard papier-mache shell--then blew it off, in crusty flakes! As it lost its coating, the monster made a noise for the first time: a deep growl.

La Loca lost her grip and fell. But, like all professional wrestlers, she knew how to absorb the impact with her back, so she was only winded when she landed.

The creature's black under-skin looked soft and baggy. It takes me at least a minute to work up enough wind for another blast. Somehow, the thing knew that I was the one who had caused it pain, so it came after me. I called to La Loca, but she was still dazed.

Then I heard a hum and felt a dull buzz. I looked over my shoulder and saw the nun, with a bright green light coming from the gem in her glove. She drew back her sword, then stabbed the thin-skinned dragon, right where its heart should have been.

The monster let out a roar that was almost as loud as my trumpet. It flared up, then burned up, from the inside out.

The fire did not spread-it fizzled out when the last of the alebrije-dragon turned to ash.

Later, the Warrior Nun told us that the dragon-thing must have been a demon, because her weapons only harm demons.

We must've really looked like something--the three of us standing there, in full costume, shaking hands, making introductions. We had to explain to Sister Shannon that I'm the only one who says "La" Loca--basically, I'm calling her the crazy woman.

Have you seen our costumes? Our pictures are on Frijoles del Oro products, in all the supermarkets.

La Loca wears the black leather mariachi outfit with the gold trim; the big ol' golden metal boots and gloves; and big bra-thing covered in red, white-and-green sequins.

As for me, I've got the cowboy hat, the wrestler's hood, the fancy duster coat, the cowboy boots, and--of course--my golden trumpet.

And then there was Sister Shannon--that was the Warrior Nun's name. She wasn't dressed like any of the nuns that taught me in grade school: her skirt had some mighty high splits on it. She told us that the Warrior Nun uniforms were designed for combat-maybe to distract the enemy.

So then a crowd started to gather around us, but we didn't have time to stop and sign autographs. We headed for our car, which was parked right out front.


The Frijoles del Oro Company designed the Gold Rider to be a cross between the Batmobile and Oscar Meyer's Weenie-Wagon--it was supposed to promote the company, so they wanted everybody to recognize it. The first Gold Rider was sleek, but then they decided to go for something that would appeal to our "amigos"--Frijoles del Oro buyers--North of the Border. So now we drive the Gold Rider II: a fifties-vintage Low Rider--a tricked-out bomb--painted gold, of course.

I could tell Sister Shannon was impressed--she gasped when she saw the car.

We were on our way to the Frijoles del Oro building. It's the corporate headquarters, and it's La Loca's and mine's, too.

I decided to take the scenic route, down the Paseo de la Reforma, to give Sister Shannon one of my ten-peso tours.

She looked out the window, and noticed that many of the street vendors sold folk art that looked like the dragon we had just fought.

I told her that they were copies of the Linares family's style of art, and they were the first ones to create the papier-mache creatures--they were also the first to call them alebrijes. (It took some effort, but Sister Shannon learned to say "Ah-lay-bree-hays.")

The day after Our Lady had been stolen the Linares family had been called in for questioning, but they were definitely innocent. Their style is so easy to copy--alebrijes are sold everywhere, because they can be made by anyone.

Then Sister Shannon creeped me out when she said that she saw some street vendor's alebrijes' eyes follow us as we drove by. I still wonder if she was just kidding.


As we were getting near El Angel, the beautiful Independence monument, I got ready to give my two-minute speech about its history. Traffic had come to a dead halt. When I looked at the golden monument ahead, I saw why:

A big swarm of live alebrijes was attacking El Angel!

They were trying to pry El Angel off her pedestal, and carry her away. To lose El Angel would be a blow to our nation's soul, second only to losing Our Lady!


Sister Shannon grabbed her sword. La Loca grabbed her whip. I grabbed my trumpet. We jumped out of Gold Rider II, and used the hoods of the cars like stepping stones through the huge river of traffic.

Dozens of alebrijes--of all shapes and sizes--saw us coming. They swooped down and started to attack us.

We fought our way to--and then up--the pedestal, but we were surrounded on all sides.

Ay, no! Red light! Hold on, lady. . .


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