By Kevin Huey
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
"CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK." I pulled open my crusty eyelids
and turned my head slightly to find the source of this torturous sound.
Big mistake. Sharp, stabbing pains shot from my forehead to the rear
of my cranium.
"Ahhhhhhhhh" escaped from the back of my paper-dry throat and across
my swollen tongue.
My head fell back into the pillow and I began inhaling quick, shallow
breaths. It was then that I noticed the unpleasant odor of stale
beer and dried sweat, and realized that it was coming from me.
My arm shot out and knocked the demonic alarm clock to the floor, where
it continued its piercing, rhythmic assault on my skull.
As the pain eased into a dull ache, I rose up in the bed and leaned
against the headboard. My unfocused stare came to rest on the pants
that I had been wearing for — well, a few days, anyway.
Even the wrinkles had wrinkles. I automatically reached for the
half-empty beer that always waited attentively on the nightstand and carefully
brought it to my lips. I realized with slight apprehension that I
had not checked the top of the can for cigarette ash, even as the first
welcome swallow pushed its way down my mucus-coated throat. I felt
great relief at the absence of a floating butt. I returned the can
to its station, then stood on unsteady legs and braced myself on the mattress
with one arm as I kicked the evil timepiece under the bed.
I walked heavily into the kitchen, each step creating pulses of pressure
on my temples, and started a pot of coffee. Then I extracted a large
can of beer from the refrigerator and sat down in the creaky wooden chair
next to the small, scarred Formica table to wait. I noticed that
it was night again as I turned up the can and greedily sucked down about
half of the contents. I spent the remainder of the time until the
coffee completed its cycle staring at the calendar on the wall, trying
to determine what day it was.
The photo for October was of a sexy Tica in a black bikini with a pointy
witch hat leaning over a washing machine. I really loved that calendar.
The realization that the coffee machine had ceased it gurgling noises trickled
into my consciousness. I lifted the can, emptied the rest into my
gullet, and then tossed it at the trash receptacle in the corner.
It bounced off the precarious mound of its brethren and knocked several
clattering to the floor.
I rinsed out a large plastic cup and poured in about three-quarters
of the steaming liquid from the pot. Then I added half the cubes
from a plastic ice tray and swirled them around with the handle of a dirty
spoon until they completely melted. I raised the cup to my mouth perhaps
six times during the next four minutes until it too was empty. Then
I went into the other room and fell on the couch to wait out the nausea
that always followed this daily ritual.
I was pretty sure that it was Friday, Halloween, which meant that I
had been drinking almost every waking moment for the last three days.
I arose and extracted what I assumed was a clean shirt from a pile in the
corner, then put it on as I walked to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
I carefully avoided gazing at myself in the mirror until this task was
completed, then patted my front pocket to check for my wallet as I strode
out the front door and into the cool night. I reached into my back
pocket and removed a crumpled pack of cheap cigarettes and some mangled
paper matches. There were three slim little happy sticks remaining,
but unfortunately, two were twisted beyond repair. I straightened
the third and shoved it between my lips, managing to light a match for
it on my fifth attempt. Then I drew the warm, comforting smoke deep
into my lungs, and the jittery feeling from the massive caffeine dose began
I scuffled along for the ten blocks to Micky’s bar, a faux Irish establishment
around the corner from the University of Costa Rica, owned and operated
by a Chinese immigrant named Wu. As I slid onto the stool next to
my buddy Juan, I caught the eye of the bartender, Pati. Actually,
he was Wu’s nephew and had been nicknamed Patty to imply some Irish connection.
He had quickly been renamed Pati by the clientele, which refers to a baked
meat pie popular on the Caribbean coast.
He was at least six feet, four inches tall and must have weighed 300
pounds. He looked just like a sumo wrestler and at the moment, he
had a small leprechaun hat perched on his huge head. Uncontrollable
laughter burst out of me in a torrent, and as I saw the tightening of his
lips at my response, it just increased. He placed two shots of tequila
in front of me and said "dos rojas" in a flat voice. At that moment,
I realized that there was an incessant tugging on my sleeve.
Juan was saying "John, John, John, John, John!."
"WHAT!" I replied in a too-loud voice as I turned to stare into his
Juan possessed two endearing qualities that made me value him highly
as a friend. First, he never corrected or dissected my bad Spanish.
Second, however bad I felt, he always looked worse.
"Dos rojas" repeated Pati.
I placed my right hand, palm outward, in front of Juan’s face as I removed
my wallet from my pocket with my left. I peeled out the two red bills
and slid them across the bar. Then I turned my attention back to
"What?" I asked at a normal volume.
"El Cadejos followed me home last night," he replied in a slightly hysterical
I looked closely at him for a moment, then I pushed one of my tequilas
in front of him.
"Is that the Colombian mafia or something?" went through my mind.
"Is that the Colombian mafia or something?" came out of my mouth.
He lifted the glass to his lips and downed the shot in one gulp, then
turned to look at me.
|"No, no, the dog," he replied.
"So a dog named El Cadejos followed you home?" I asked, as I reached
for my glass.
"It is not just a dog!" he exclaimed, "It is a magical animal.
Let me tell you the story. At one time there was a young muchacho
called Joaquin that lived in Cartago. He went out drinking every
night, and it worried and upset his family. After he had been gone
for a week, his father went out to find him and told him never to come
back home. His father’s eyes blazed red and when Joaquin refused
to answer, he was changed into a huge black dog with chains and burning
red eyes. He will follow bad drunks home and they must never turn
to look at him.
"Or what?" I prodded.
"It will drive you insane," he replied, eyes dropping to the floor.
I held up two fingers to Pati, signaling another round, then stared
intently at Juan’s small brown face, waiting for the rest of the story.
"Last night, after I left you at your doorstep, I was walking home,"
he began, "I had stopped at the music store and was staring in the window
at that life-size poster of Shakira in her tight, little white dress when
I heard the tinkling of chains and saw the reflection of a large beast
walking up behind me. Then I smelled dead, rotting flesh, like from
the swollen dogs that have been hit by cars and lie beside the pista.
I knew instantly that it was El Cadejos, so I turned and walked away very
fast. I could still hear the tinkling behind me, so I knew that he
was following. I began to run as fast as I could, and I almost fell
a few times because of the bad sidewalk, but finally I reached my door
and made it inside. Then I was safe, because I was home and I didn’t
look at him."
"Wow!" I exclaimed and tried to look empathetic. We had imbibed
massive amounts of liquor in the last few days, he and I, so I was not
surprised that his pickled brain would drift into hallucinations.
What followed that evening was more of the same, and I must have went into
a blackout approximately two hours later.
When consciousness returned, I found myself lying in a pile of carefully
tied, small plastic bags filled with garbage. I rolled over to my
hands and knees, stood up, and looked through the window into the panaderia
where I sometimes bought pastries. It was still dark out, but there
were already several people inside, hard at work.
I began walking the remaining four blocks to my apartment, weaving slightly
as I was still somewhat intoxicated. What was that metallic noise
behind me, wind chimes maybe? I realized that I had walked over a
block and the sound was still with me, just as loud as before. How
odd. I turned around, curious as to its origin and — froze completely.
Perhaps 10 feet away, a huge black dog crouched and growled menacingly
at me. Large chains looped around and hung from its massive neck,
its eyes glowed like red neon. It slowly rose to a standing position,
extending its chest and emitting a low-pitched howl. Adrenaline flooded
my brain and body, the flight instinct took over completely. I turned
and ran like the wind, or at least like a slightly drunk gringo, scared
past the capability of rational thought. Right down the center of
the street, chains keeping pace all the way, only one block left to go.
Then my right foot came down in a pothole and I began to stumble, panic
pushing bile into the back of my throat. I felt a claw tear through
the back of my pants and rip down my calf, drawing blood but not damaging
muscle. To my amazement, I caught my balance again, straightened up and
increased my speed even more.
I threw open the door to my building and leaped onto the stairs, taking
two at a time as I flew up to my second floor apartment. The beast
lost its footing on the steps and crashed through the railing, wood splintering
with sharp cracking noises, as it fell to the landing below. Then
I heard its toenails clattering on the tile as it quickly righted itself
and resumed its pursuit. I managed to get the door open and then
lock it behind me, throwing the bolts as a large mass slammed into it from
the other side. The frame split partially on the first impact, I knew it
wouldn’t hold against a second attack. As I ran down the hall, the
monster hit again and the door, frame and all, crashed down into the hallway
It oriented itself for a few moments, allowing me time to run into the
bedroom and slam the door, wedging an old wooden chair under the knob.
I looked around the room in a panic, but there was nowhere to hide.
I lunged onto the bed, then I pushed myself up into a sitting position
against the headboard.
The bedroom door was thin, the wood infested with termites. El
Cadejos was barely inconvenienced as he smashed easily through the barrier
and leaped onto the bed. The bed frame slammed into the wall and
bounced off, knocking over the nightstand. I felt warm urine spreading
over my crotch as I froze, hopelessly holding my hands in front of my face
in some instinctual, obviously useless defense posture.
His stench was overpowering and the bile rose again from my stomach,
almost choking me. I felt, rather than heard the low growl in his
chest, as his lips slowly pulled back to expose his canine fangs.
Then to my amazement, his snout rose several inches and he sniffed the
air. He gazed down at the half empty beer overturned on the floor,
spilling its contents on the tiles. He jumped from the bed and landed
on the floor heavily, shaking the whole structure of the building.
He proceeded to lap up the stale brew with loud slurping noises.
At that moment, the first rays of the morning sun crept through the
partially open drapes and El Cadejos began losing substance. Within
maybe 15 seconds he became transparent and then just faded away.
Only the stench remained. I stared down at the remaining droplets
shimmering in the light for a few long moments. Then I stood, climbed over
the broken wreckage that had previously been my bedroom door and chair,
and went into the kitchen to take another tall can of beer from the fridge.
Copyrighted 2004 Kevin Huey and Consultantes Río