December 16, 2012
Metropolitan Cathedral: Mexico City, Mexico
“La serpiente! La serpiente ha venido!”
The words echoed urgently between the saints, lifting to the olive rafters between which was emitted the gloriously white sunlight. Cardinal Balbás split the light as he chased the trailing echoes down the eastern nave, conscious of his vest-ments scooping the air about his legs. His eyes remained fixed upon the child.
Why weren’t the auxiliary bishops
around when he needed them? Where was Father Ruiz?
Cardinal Balbás didn’t like to rush through the cathedral. It felt disrespectful, but he had to hurry, prompted by the lit-tle boy running ahead of him, and the Sunday mass about to begin behind him.
“Es la serpiente!”
What was Felipe talking about? The boy understood his meager tasks well enough to relieve the deacons of his special needs, but even without them, it wasn’t like Felipe to disrupt preparations. Whatever the cause, the young altar boy had been urgent, tugging on the archbishop’s robes with increas-ing frequency. Cardinal Balbás tried to shoo him back to the pews until finally, with nobody else around to usher him away, he agreed to investigate what had frightened the child. There was still time before the call to worship.
The organ began to play, compressing time with its hauntingly distant tones. Cardinal Balbás had to get back. Still, Felipe led him onward, his peremptory cries about a snake dipping in and out of the groping notes.
Finally, the boy stopped and turned to face the opening of a chapel. Given the iron grate that spanned the opening, Cardinal Balbás knew immediately which chapel he’d been led to. The Capilla del Santo Cristo y de las Reliquias.
Felipe now had a firm grip on the iron bars, rocking his body back and forth. His lips were still murmuring and his rocking grew with alarming intensity. His head was colliding with the bars by the time Cardinal Balbás reached his side.
“¿Qué es?” Cardinal Balbás asked as he pried the boy’s fingers from the bars.
“Nuestro salvador es conquistado!” Felipe cried. Cardinal Balbás noticed the tears streaming down his face. “Nuestro salvador es perdido!”
Cardinal Balbás set the trembling child aside, leaving him to shift anxiously back and forth on his feet. He turned back to the chapel’s grate and peered through the bars. As expected, the chapel was still, slumbering in the silence of old things set aside. The dim light made it difficult to see the or-nate altar looming in the darkness.
He reached for his key and placed it into the lock. As soon as it clicked loose, the altar boy rushed forward and swung the gate open.
Cardinal Balbás reached for the boy’s altar robes, but Felipe was too quick. He squirted into the chapel, completely ignoring the altar and instead lunged for the side wall where he finally collapsed, weeping.
Cardinal Balbás searched the wall above the prostrate child. He spotted the gilded crucifix that had occupied that wall for centuries, but it had changed. His breath caught in his throat. There, instead of Christ hanging on the cross, Cardi-nal Balbás found himself face to face with the menacing snarl of a serpent’s head.
The snake had come indeed.