The bleak flats of the dusty backroads in west Texas were hardly a place for anyone to visit. The air was hot, even at night, and the local wildlife was vicious in nature. From wild packs of flesh-eating pigs to giant rattlesnakes, the badlands of Texas was a place full of danger. It would be a spot that everybody would avoid, if not for the one special thing about the area.
If one looked close enough at the cracked earth, the dirt pleading for rainwater that would never come, one would see that beneath grit and grime there was a faint outline of primitive roads. How old, one couldn’t say. The native tribes that had lived nearby said that the crossing paths had been there long before they’d settled. The first Spanish explorers that found them were perplexed by the crossroads. They bore Latin markings, but nobody in the New World would know Latin.
The two paths intersected and then carried on for precisely twenty-two feet going in the cardinal directions, the road heading North lined with carved stones set deep into the ground, each bearing crude carvings of figures performing strange actions. Some held bowls up, pouring something on themselves while others held what looked like birds. Some stones depicted dozens of men walking South, a crude marking of a bird with a snake in its talons seemingly leading them away.
The stone, wide and flat, sat at the center of the crossroads, marked with carvings so small one would need to crawl on their hands and knees to read them if in fact one could discover what the language was. The few people that knew of this stretch of desert certainly didn’t know the language, and merely chalked it up as something that perhaps the predecessors to the Olmec did.
In the haze of the heat, wavering like water over the rise, a wagon slowly crept up to the crossroads, the wooden vehicle pulled by a tired looking horse. The driver pulled the horse to a stop, snapping the reins to slow the beast. Stooped and shriveled, the old man slowly climbed down from the bollock seat, and walked with creaking limbs up to the rear of the wagon, rapping the knuckles of a withered hand on the back door.
“We’re here Martha,” the old man croaked. He didn’t wait for a response, instead choosing to go tend to the horse, pulling a weathered bucket down from beneath the seat and ladling water into it from a barrel beneath the wagon.
The back door opened, revealing an old woman, her features soft, jowls hanging loosely from her face which was lined with wrinkles brought on by decades of hard labor. Her clothes were colorful, a bandana wrapped around her head to cover her still dark hair. Staring with sharp eyes at the dismal surroundings, her face split into a smile.
Turning, she cleared her throat. “Opal, gather the tools. We need to be ready by dusk, which if the sun is an indicator, is only a few hours away.”
A young woman, in her late teens, walked up behind her mother, shielding her eyes from the merciless sun with a gloved hand. She wore a full-length dress, the edges made from light silk dyed red. She nodded to her mother. “I have everything already packed and ready to be used. I readied the supplies while you slept.”
Martha smiled at her daughter, bringing up a knotty hand to caress her cheek. “Such a bright child… well then! Let us begin while we still have the daylight. I’ll ask dear Terrance to try and gather a few more scorpions for us; I only have the one mason jar of the venom, and it sells so well back East.”
“To the sadists, maybe,” Opal mumbled before wincing, hoping her mother hadn’t heard. The woman was quick to anger and even quicker to punish… Opal turned to grab a heavy suitcase with a grunt. The small room that the wagon held smelled heavily of perfume and incense, numerous trinkets hanging from the walls, along with posters and maps. Opal’s eyes lingered on the human skull sitting atop one of many books, the empty sockets staring back at her with indifference.
She shivered at the thoughts that the remains brought to mind and instead turned to step down onto the dusty ground, following her mother towards the crossroads.
Martha was laughing, twirling around with arms outstretched. “It’s really here Opal, just like the old Negro said it would be!”
Opal indulged her mother with a smile, all the while internally cursing the woman in the bayou for telling the Romani about this mystical locale. If it weren’t for that foul harridan, Opal would still be in Louisiana looking for a husband to escape the Hell that was her life!
Setting the suitcase down, she kneeled to open it up, revealing dozens of jars and cloth sacks, along with several pages torn from a manuscript stolen from the Vatican several years ago. This was the key to it all, the words on the ancient parchment speaking of the mystical phrases that would aid her family in this time too terrible for her people.
The Romani were facing persecution like never before, their traveling bands beset by bandits and thieves. Wherever they set their wagons they were rebuffed by locals, told that they weren’t welcome. They would try and barter for supplies and, ever so rarely, they would get what they needed. They’d come from Italy to the New World with promises of a nation of tolerance, where everyone was accepted.
What a joke that was.