Las Bolas De Fuego
Chele sat quietly on the hilltop overlooking Nexapa. Her legs were crossed and her eyes were closed, but it was clear a fire burned within her. Though her breathing was calm, her fists were clenched tightly as they rested on her thighs; her blonde hair swirled around her in the wind, catching red and orange highlights from the setting sun.
She had never quite fit in among the people of her village. Her light skin and light hair, coupled with the unsettling gold of her eyes, had caused the other children to shun her when she was younger and she found herself an outcast. When her parents and brother had been killed in a flood, Chele found herself truly alone.
Then the Brujo had arrived. Like her, his hair and skin was fair. But his eyes — they shone like bright sapphires, even in the dark. He offered Chele shelter and food and clothing.
And power — he offered her power like she had never known, power he said she had inside her already. He offered her power that could help protect the world from evils she did not yet know.
Leaving Nexapa was easy for Chele. She had nothing left there except pain, so she went with the Brujo willingly. His temple was outside of town, carved out of a mountainside. The main house was carved in the cascade of a waterfall so that the water split and rained down either side of the pitched roof. The constant rushing water had smoothed all the stone to a beautiful gloss.
As they arrived, Chele realize the temple was surrounded by a lake without a bridge or boat to traverse. She looked to the Brujo for an answer and he smiled.
“First lesson: protect your home.”
He reached into his bag and pulled from it the carcass of a newborn ocelot. He tossed the cat out into the water, where it made a small splash that was quickly overcome by a frenzy of splashing and a spreading pool of red. Chele’s eyes grew wide as, for the first time, she wondered whether she was safe with the Brujo. She began to ask how they would traverse the obviously dangerous water, but he held up his hand to stop her.
The Brujo brought his hands together and began an intricate series of motions with his fingers; he brought his palms in toward his chest and then flung them outward toward the water. Chele watched in awe as a bridge of ice formed across the expanse of the lake.
“Watch your step,” he said as she began walking across the frozen water.
Chele rose from her seat on the hilltop. She stretched lithely and turned away from Nexapa. In front of her was a path few had ever walked, from which none had ever returned — the path to the top of the mountain, to The Devil’s Peak.
As she began her climb, Chele recalled the stories of her childhood — that the peak was where Lucifer fell from Heaven; that the Devil still lived at the mountaintop; that the Brujo protected Nexapa from Satan, and that Satan was kept from destroying the village only by the will of God.
Her mind floated back to watching fathers chasing their children around the village center on festival days, their fingers mimicking horns as they play-acted being Satan himself. The screams of the children still rang in her ears as they exceeded the grasps of their fathers.
As the sun neared the horizon, Chele remembered the last summer she still had her family. It was the feast day of Saint Severa, and the entire town was in the basilica for evening services. The ground quaked suddenly, causing some candles to fall and burn a pair of deacons lightly.
As she came out of the church, Chele heard an explosion and looked toward its source: the mountaintop. The sky was glowing red above it, as though the Sun had set in the north instead of the west. Around her villagers dropped to their knees and prayed for safety from Satan’s wrath. The explosions continued and occasional bursts of light could be seen.
All night the villagers had prayed, and in the morning the quakes and explosions stopped. The Brujo had walked into town that morning and calmed the nerves of the Monseñor, who had in turn helped calm the villagers. Satan would not destroy Nexapa that day.
As she crested the first large incline on the trail, Chele looked back again at her little village. The Sun had dipped beyond the horizon some time ago. Candles and torches were being lit as twilight came to an end. When the last streaks of red had disappeared from the night sky she turned once again toward her destination.
Chele snapped her fingers on her right hand and a large, red flame appeared floating above her palm to light her way.
Her training was always difficult, no matter how much stronger she became. Her long walks for food always felt longer. Her bundles of supply always felt heavier. The energy it took to complete her daily magical exercises exhausted her more every time.
And even after three years of training, Chele could barely create a patch of ice large enough and strong enough to support her slight frame.
“I do not understand, Brujo,” she would complain after a particularly exhausting day. “You said you saw great power in me. Perhaps you were wrong.”
The Brujo shook his head. “It is there, like the seed of a vast árbol just below the surface. We just need to find out how to make it sprout.”
Her third winter at the Brujo’s temple was particularly cold. One morning Chele refused to complete her daily chores, angered at her lack of progress and the Brujo’s apparent disregard. “You only want a servant to order around.” The anger had flowed through her veins, and the Brujo had seen it. As punishment, he sent her across the lake to stand naked in the cold.
And then he had caused a small snowstorm just above her head.
The Brujo’s intent had been to remind Chele of her place as a student, that she still had training and that she would one day attain her true potential. Instead, he awoke the fire within.
Chele had called forth a flame to engulf and warm her body in the chilling cold of the Brujo’s punishment. She turned and ran her finger along the trunk of a tree at the lakeside, a line of flame cutting across the thick trunk; the tree fell slowly and bridged the lake. She walked across and past the Brujo, into the warmth of the temple.
As Chele crested the mountain she was unsurprised to find the demon waiting for her. Huracan stood tall upon mismatched legs — one human and one serpent-shaped. When he spoke, his voice echoed as though they were in a cave.
“Approach, Bruja, and kneel before Huracan — Heart of the Sky; God of the Wind, the Storm, and the Fire; Protector of Nexaca. What is it you wish to ask for?”
Chele smiled. “Nothing.”
“I ask for nothing, One-Leg,” she spat as she brought fireballs to life in her hands. “I take what I want and I destroy anything that stands in my way.”
This story is part of a personal daily challenge series, with topics pulled from Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.
Today’s topic was Las Bolas De Fuego, a celebration held every August 31 in the El Salvadorian town of Nejapa. The festival, which consists of young men throwing flaming rags at each other in the streets, commemorates the 1658 eruption of the nearby El Playon volcano, its destruction of the town of Nexapa, and the town’s forced relocation and refounding as Nejapa.