Tell No Man
T. J. TRANCHELL
Elder Blain Griffen held the small, plastic vial of oil between his fingers, ready to twist the lid off and drip the contents onto the head of the young Chilean mother sitting before him. Elder Rey Montoya, Griffen’s junior companion, stood still, waiting for Griffen to pour the oil before placing his hands on the mother’s head.
“¿Hermana Molina, estás lista?” Elder Griffen said. After more than a year in the mission field, the Spanish language came quickly to Griffen, just as it would during the prayer he was about to speak. He twisted the small lid off the plastic vial and lifted it over Sister Molina’s head. A few drops of the consecrated oil settled in Sister Molina’s dark hair. Elder Griffen put the lid back on the bottle and nodded at Elder Montoya to join him.
The woman’s family watched as the missionaries prepared to give her a blessing. Her husband held their young child and Sister Molina held her stomach to hold back the pains she still felt months after giving birth.
The two young elders had been visiting the Molinas for about five months, just before the birth of Vicente, their son. Montoya had only been in the field for a month then, and had recently become Griffen’s companion when they met the Montoyas. Serving in Chile had been difficult for them both, but with the Santiago temple nearing dedication, the people of the city and the small villages they served seemed more open to hearing the message of Jesus.
For Griffen, being a Mormon was all he had ever known. Home was thousands of miles away in Blackhawk, Utah, and he had not planned his life beyond his two years as an LDS missionary. Teaching people about Christ in Chile had been a challenge because most of the people already knew who Jesus was. The Catholic iconography was everywhere—even the name of the city their mission was based in had Catholic roots.
Montoya, a year younger than Griffen, had come to the mission field from New Mexico. He was more familiar with Catholicism and his grandma—his abuela, a word Griffen adored—still spoke of the saints she had left behind in Guadalupe, traded in for Joseph Smith and a story she could relate to, claiming to have seen Jesus on the day her husband died crossing the border.
With the elders’ hands placed gently atop Sister Molina’s head, Elder Griffen began the prayer he had practiced in his head since he was first ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Sister Consuela González Molina, by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we anoint you with oil that has been set apart for blessing the sick and afflicted in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
It was short, but Elder Griffen felt compelled to let Elder Montoya do the actual blessing part. Montoya’s Spanish was more fluid and contained notes of sincerity Griffen struggled with. He thought Sister Molina’s husband would appreciate hearing a native speaker bless his suffering wife.
“Sister Consuela González Molina, by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood which we hold, we seal the anointing and ask Our Heavenly Father to place his healing touch upon your body, your mind, and your spirit.
“The pains in your stomach from bringing another of the Lord’s children into the world are horrible and we ask the Lord that the pain be taken from you. We ask that the cause of the pain be identified and that if further medical treatment be needed that such will be provided.
“Sister Molina, you are a gift to this world, one of Heavenly Father’s precious children. You are a gift to your husband and to the son he holds in his arms. Your pain and suffering is great, Heavenly Father and His son know. Through this blessing, we ask that you be comforted in the love of Jesus Christ, our savior.
“Sister, be blessed and always remember the Lord’s love for you.
“We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The young men’s hands lingered over Sister Molina’s hair for just a moment.
Then the ground began to tremble.
Sister Molina sat up, reaching for her baby. She did not express any of the pain that had plagued her for the entire life of her child. Her husband wrapped his arms around her as she clutched young Vicente to her bosom. Brother Molina spoke rapidly, telling the elders they could take shelter within the posts of the front door of the shack as they cowered under similar posts between the main room and a small kitchen.
The tremors were not the worst either of the elders had experienced during their time in Santiago. They smiled at each other, neither needing to speak aloud about how swiftly Sister Molina moved following her blessing. They shook hands as the quake subsided.
Screams came rolling down the street, getting louder as they got closer to the Molina home.
“¿Los ven a mis hermanos?” a strong but worried voice cried.
“Do you think he’s looking for us?” Elder Montoya asked his companion.
“He might be, but he sounds like he needs help, so we should find out,” Elder Griffen said. The two men said their goodbyes, dusted off their white shirts, straightened their ties, and went outside.
A man holding his arms out saw them and began running. “Hermanos, ayúdenme. Él la tiene. Él la tiene poh.”
Who has her? Who?” Elder Griffen said as he gripped the man’s shoulders. "What can we do?”
“¡Él diablo poh! Él la tiene cachaí. Él diablo tiene a mi hija.”
The devil has my daughter.
The young men jumped over ever-growing piles of rubble as they followed the distraught man back to his home. Other cries for help hit their ears but they ignored them for now, hoping maybe this was something other than what the man said.
Soon, they reached a home that looked just like all the others on the street: a mix of loose bricks and sheets of tin, remnants of older home built upon with materials that could be easily scavenged from construction closer to the center of the city. And like most of the other homes the elders passed, this one had a huddled family outside of it.
Instead of looking around at the damage to other homes, these four bodies stood close to each other, muffling the sounds of weeping that could have come from one or all of them. Shrouds of dark cloth hung from each head as if they were already mourning a family member who had died in the earthquake that stopped less than fifteen minutes prior.
Montoya approached the group and the weeping became words:
Que estás en los cielos.
Santificado sea tu nombre.
Venga tu reino…”
“They are praying the Lord’s prayer,” Montoya said to Griffen. “Something bad happened in there.”
Griffen could see rapid movements in the spaces between the four people. Hands blurred from forehead to chest, from shoulder to shoulder.
“Let’s see what he needs,” Griffen said. The man they followed opened the door and waved them inside.
The light from outside stopped at the door jamb. The darkness enveloped Montoya and Griffen even as they peered over their shoulders at the afternoon glow of the street. The four cloaked figures remained outside and the door soon closed upon them. The man grabbed each of the missionaries by the arm and pulled them forward. Another door opened and soon the two young men stood in a room not only filled with darkness but also with a stench like that of a sewer running beneath a slaughterhouse. The smell did not emanate from above or below but rather from a corner deeper in the room. The distance felt much farther to Montoya than the size of the shack lead him to believe possible. He stared into the corner, the lack of light and the heavy smells pounding into him.
Something moved. Montoya felt Griffen freeze at the sign of motion. Montoya, however, continued forward.
“No te acerques. El diablo te agarrará, también,” the man whispered.
“He’s right, Montoya,” Griffen said, dropping his Spanish for the first time in months. “Let’s not get too close until we know what’s going on.”
But Montoya continued walking toward the corner. He could feel pain pulsing from the spot where he saw movement. “We need to help her,” he said, still using the Spanish language that flowed through his mind and blood.
“You can’t help her, you pig,” said a throaty voice in English from the darkness. “She belongs to me and I’m taking her to Hell.”
From behind him, Montoya heard the man asking Griffen what the voice had said. The man did not know English, yet somehow his daughter spoke the language perfectly and with no accent.
As Griffen held the man, trying to comfort him, Montoya turned back to the corner and stepped forward. His feet bumped a mattress and he took a step back, then kicked out to find the mattress again. Instead of kicking the mattress, his foot hit nothing. The mattress bumped into Montoya’s shins, then his knees before slamming back onto the ground and Montoya’s feet.
Montoya stood, moisture from the mattress seeping into his shoes, and addressed the voice. “If you are the devil, leave this man’s daughter be. In the name of Jesus Christ, get thee behind me, Satan.”
A rush of air jetted by Montoya’s ear. He felt more than heard the word gladly as a wind began to fill the room. The boards of the house shook as if rocked by an aftershock from the earlier earthquake. The front door slammed open, letting a shaft of light spill into the home. The boards settled, the room quieted. A fly buzzed somewhere in the house and no one said a word. A siren cried outside but faded to an echo before reaching the ears of the missionaries. Elder Griffen began to smile.
Faces peered in from the doorway but the foul wind slammed the door again as it rushed back into the house and into the corner of the room where the three men remained. A hand gripped Montoya’s ankle and the voice spoke again, this time in Spanish.
“Aún no he terminado con ella…”
I’m not done with her yet.
Griffen lunged toward his companion and pulled the younger man away from the mattress. Fingernails ripped Montoya’s trousers and stuck on his cotton socks before Griffen was able to pull him out of the grasp of whatever lay upon the mattress.
“We need light and we need help,” Griffen said to Montoya. He turned to the man who had brought them into this house and resumed his Spanish.
“We have to go get help,” he told the man. “We will bring water, candles, and food.”
“Traí a tu dios. Solo Él la puede salvar,” the man replied.
“We will bring the Lord and all the angels of heaven to help your daughter,” Montoya said as he wiped sweat from his brow. “We will bring Jesus.”
“Jesucristo? Yes, bring your Christ and we will see who eats ash this day,” the creature on the mattress said. “Bring Him to see me again.”
Montoya turned away from the corner and looked into the man’s face. “We will be back as soon as we can. I promise.”
“Gracias, hermanos. Gracias. Gracias a Dios,” he replied.
From behind the missionaries, the voice from the corner spoke again, but softer, sounding more like the daughter the man sought help for.
“Gracias élderes. Thank you, elders. Godspeed.”
No words passed between Griffen and Montoya until they reached the home of their mission president, César Martinez. Griffen stopped Montoya just before the younger missionary could knock on the door.
“What do we say? What just happened back there?” Griffen said.
“We tell the truth. There was an earthquake. A man asked us to help his daughter. His daughter is sick with the devil.” Montoya’s matter of fact answer momentarily shocked Griffen, but Griffen knew his companion was right. They would tell the truth.
President Martínez opened the door already shrugging into his suit coat despite the increasing heat of the day. He took in the frightened faces and dusty shirts of the missionaries and Montoya’s ripped pants in quick succession. He spoke Spanish, as is the general rule of the mission field to speak in the tongue as much as possible.
“Elders, you do not look so well,” Martínez said. “Please come in.”
“There was an earthquake and someone needed help, and …” Griffen started talking as fast as he could, but the last part stopped his voice.
“President, we need help. A man in the barrio says the devil has taken his daughter. Her hand ripped my pants but I do not think it was truly her. We heard her speak in English and with a man’s voice. The house is full of night and a terrible smell.”
“Had you met this family before today?” Martínez said.
“No, presidente, we had not. We were in a home down the street giving Sister Molina a blessing,” Griffen said. “Then there was the tremor and the man came looking for us to help.”
Martínez glanced over both young men again, looking for any sign that they might be embellishing this story. He saw only fear and confusion on Elder Griffen’s face. On Elder Montoya’s, he saw fear and empathy.
“Take me there,” Martínez said, grabbing the black-covered scriptures with his name embossed on the cover.
Griffen and Montoya had ran so quickly from the barrio to Martínez’s home that they did not notice how calm things were once they left the street they had been on. No signs of damage from the earthquake appeared despite the tremor occurring less than two hours before.
“President Martínez, did you feel the earthquake,” Griffen asked.
“No, Elder, I did not. And there have been no reports of an earthquake on the radio.”
“The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard. And shall be removed like a cottage,” Montoya whispered.
“Yes, Elder,” Martínez said. “Like tornados where I was raised in Oklahoma, an earthquake can hit one home or one street here. And they happen all too often. Your Book of Isaiah is strong.”
The three men came to the street and were met by Brother Molina. He held the scriptures left behind by the elders and again gave his thanks to them and to God. But he could not bring gladness to his face.
“No se vayan a aquella casa poh. Maricela ya no está bien poh y creemos que se enfermó hace rato ya,” he said.
“Her name is Maricela? How long has she been sick,” Martínez asked.
“Desde que murió su madre. Juan, su padre, no está bien tampoco.”
“The poor girl. So sick after losing her mother. Let us go see her and Juan,” Martínez said.
The missionaries took their scriptures and shook hands with Brother Molina. They did not look back as they scanned the buildings for Juan and Maricela’s house. A path through some of the earthquake debris made walking down the street easier than it had been for Montoya and Griffen as they ran behind Juan earlier in the day. Montoya was the first to spot the dark-cloaked figures keeping watch over the shack that held such horrible conditions inside.
Martínez walked up to the door but a hand shot out from the cloaks and grabbed him by the arm.
“Juan is dying. The devil has Maricela. You Mormon priests cannot help them. Our Father will be here soon,” spoke the figure who had reached out.
“We only want to do what we can,” Martínez said. “Let us pass.”
The arm retreated back into the copse of black cloth and the Spanish litanies continued. Martínez, Griffen, and Montoya pushed open the door and plunged back into complete darkness.
The three men could see nothing. No light crept through the space between the door and the jamb. The rattled boards seemed to fit better than when Montoya and Griffen had been inside the shack before; not even a shadow moved in the great room. Beyond the doorway into the second room, a rustling like rats running through an attic could be heard but not much else. As they moved closer to the door, Griffen tripped over what felt like a log. He reached down and grasped the hair on a cold leg.
“Juan,” Griffen said, letting go of the leg. “We’re back. We brought help.”
Juan did not answer. Instead, soft laughter began to replace the rustling from the second room.
“Juan’s gone,” said the gravel-tinged voice in English. “He has gone to see your Christ.”
“We are all children of our Heavenly Father,” Martinez said in Spanish. "Even you.”
“Me?” The voice said. “Soy la hija del diablo.”
The change to Spanish came with a return to the softer, more feminine voice.
Montoya stepped into the room and spoke louder than Griffen could remember hearing from his junior companion.
“Maricela, you are a daughter of the Lord and we are your brothers in Christ.” Montoya reached into his pocket, grasping the plastic vial of consecrated oil and twisting the cap off in the same hand. “By the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood which I hold, I anoint you with this oil in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” He splashed the oil toward the mattress, following the groans to guide his hand, hoping enough of the oil reached Maricela to do any good.
Martínez and Griffen joined him and the three men reached out to lay their hands upon Maricela together. A hand grabbed Martínez’s coat and shoved him back. He regained his feet and scuffled back to the mattress.
Griffen yelped in pain as searing fingernails tore the skin off his left arm but he did not remove his hands from Maricela’s body. Montoya dropped the empty vial and placed his hands next to Griffen’s.
“Maricela,” Martínez said, “by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood which we hold, we bless you. Be healed from this attack. Be comforted in the knowledge that your Father in Heaven loves you. Be free from Satan’s influence and forgiven of your sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Griffen and Montoya echoed the amen.
The men left their hands on Maricela as her body thrashed on the soiled mattress. The stench around her worsened then dissipated. She became still, her breathing shallow.
“We need to get a doctor for her and for her father,” Griffen said.
“We do,” Martínez said. “But I fear this is just a moment of peace and not over.”
Quietly, in her own voice and language, Maricela spoke. “He’s not done with me yet.”
“And we are not, either,” Montoya replied.
After some discussion and bringing another elder in to accompany him, Griffen headed out with Martínez’s instructions. Go back to the mission president’s home, speak to Sister Martínez. Gather candles, water, and food. Bring any of the other elders who might be around back to the barrio. Make sure they have their scriptures. Bring all the consecrated oil available. Get another bottle of olive oil to consecrate from Sister Martínez. Ask her to call the doctor and give him directions to the home in the barrio.
Be back before the sun goes down.
Tell no man what has gone on today. Not Sister Martínez, not the doctor, not the other elders. They will learn soon enough.
With help from four other elders, Griffen packed enough food and water for two days. He deflected numerous inquiries before the scripture Martínez referenced came to him.
“Look it up,” he told Elders Young, Draper, Lund, and Bracken. “Mark 7:36.”
Griffen heard pages flipping behind him but he didn’t stop. He adjusted the pack on his back and continued walking. Daylight was coming to a close and he did not want to come upon Maricela’s house in the dark.
Griffen heard singing as he approached the home in the barrio. The dark-cloaked figures had moved on and in their place stood a tall man dressed in cotton pants and a loose-fitting shirt. He held a small book in his hands and did not look up as Griffen and the other elders approached the door.
“I am Maricela’s uncle,” he said in Spanish and without moving his head or body. “Juan was my brother. Did the devil take my brother?”
"No,” Griffen said as he pushed open the door. “Your brother is with Christ now, watching over his daughter.”
“He died without a Priest to hear his final confession,” the tall man said.
“Jesus heard him and that’s what counts,” Griffen answered, holding the door for the pack of white-shirted young men as they entered the shack. The door closed behind them and the tall man remained outside.
The singing Griffen had heard came from Martinez and Montoya. Someone had brought them a candle and the two men were sitting next to the mattress in the corner singing “I am a Child of God.” Griffen set down his pack and joined them. The four elders he brought with him did the same. The odor of the room felt less oppressive as if pushed back by the range of male voices ringing out a song every Mormon child knew by heart.
As the verse ended and the candlelight wavered, Griffen look about for Juan but did not see him. Tripping over the man’s leg early and the appearance of his brother confirmed Griffen’s fear that Juan was dead. President Martínez reached out to Griffen before the younger man could stand again.
“His brother came with some other men and they took Juan’s body. They wanted to take Maricela, too, but she lashed out and struck a man in the face. They don’t know if his he will still have vision in his left eye.”
“The brother is still out there,” Griffen said.
“And we are in here and will be until Christ Jesus releases this girl from her torment,” Martínez said and began singing again.
In the waning candle’s glow Maricela’s skin looked green to Griffen. Her legs were bare up to her mid-thigh. A shirt that might once have been white or yellow clung to her body as tightly as the drops of sweat on her brow.
“Siento sus ojos en mí virgen,” said the softer voice to Griffen. “Toma lo que quieres.”
“Do not listen, Elder Griffen,” Montoya said as he put his hands on Griffen’s shoulders. “It is not Maricela who speaks now.”
Griffen nodded, wiped a sheet of sweat of his forehead and gathered the four missionaries new to the scene to unpack the supplies they had brought. The men continued to sing with their backs to Maricela as she enticed each of them to turn back to her and accept her invitation to join her on the mattress.
“Soy un hijo de Dios,” they sang, reminding each other of their Father in Heaven. Their voices mixed with moans of bodily desire from the corner. Elder Draper, only in the field for three months, began to shake. He dropped a can of food on his foot, gasped, and cursed in the way only Mormons seem to do.
“Gosh darn it, that hurts,” Draper said. He reached down and rubbed his foot through his shoe and reached for the can he had dropped. He watched, bent over, as the can rolled to the mattress.
Broken-nailed fingers, the tips still red from Montoya’s leg and the eye of the man she struck, fondled the can, rolled it back and forth, then seized it in a crushing grip. The ends of the can burst, shooting vegetable soup onto the mattress from one end and the floor on the other. The moans turned to laughter as the can momentarily disappeared from view. The eyes of all seven men in the room were now upon her.
The elders who had been stacking supplies joined Elder Montoya and President Martínez in a line by the mattress.
Elder Draper slipped in the small puddle of soup and fell to his knees. As he looked up, the jagged edge of the tin can sliced into his throat. Blood soaked his white shirt and flooded over his tie. Spurting blood splashed the shoes and pants of his brethren. Maricela’s laughter dropped from inviting tones to a guttural, defiant timbre.
“You are all stained and can never be with your God now,” the toad-like voice said in English. “Give yourselves to me and I will share this body with you.”
Elder Young, who had been Draper’s companion, raised his right fist to strike Maricela, but Montoya flung his arm out to block Young’s strike.
“It is not her, Elder, who is speaking, but if you hit her, it is her body that will feel it,” Montoya said. “She will feel anything—anything—that happens to her body. Whatever has her wants you to hit her and more. We can’t give in to this temptation.”
Martínez moved out of line and put his hands on Young’s shoulders. Young continued to stare down at Maricela.
“Montoya is right, Elder Young,” Martínez said. “If any of us harm her, it will be as if we are prisoners on that same filthy mattress. We are not without sin, elders, and so we shall cast no stones.”
“Throw your stones, please,” said the young woman. She spoke in her own voice, but in English. “Throw them and end this. Send me to Jesus.” She stretched and writhed on the mattress, the skin on her thighs splitting as her legs shot out straight and pulled back against her body. Her tendons popped as if they were cooking and small streams on steam rose from the fissures in her flesh.
“¡Tráeme agua, tráeme agua!” Maricela spoke again in her own voice and language. Her arms flailed out above her prone body and the skin along her biceps tore, revealing the muscle beneath. More whitish jets of steam erupted from the canyons of Maricela’s skin. The smell of burning flesh began to fill the room.
“What do we do?” Young asked Martínez, gripping his mission president’s hands. “She’s burning alive.”
Martinez held Young’s hands, but turned to Montoya and then Griffen.
“What do we do?” Montoya said. Martínez gripped Young’s hands harder and raised them for Montoya to see.
The other elders joined hands, Griffen and Montoya at each end. None of the men looked down at Elder Draper’s body. Montoya reached down and grasped one of Martínez’s hands, leaving Martínez to hold Young’s hand. Montoya pulled his arm back and the two men—one barely two decades old, the other three times that—followed.
Standing and now facing Maricela as her body burned from within, the men resumed their singing. Soon, Martínez began to pray again.
“Lord God, bless this day. Bless this day and take this woman’s soul into your comfort,” he prayed. He let go of the hands holding his and knelt before the mattress. Motioning the missionaries to join him, he placed his hands on Maricela’s head. The other men placed their hands on her head, too, careful to avoid the pockets of fire emanating from her flesh. Montoya continued his prayer.
“O, Father, who art in heaven, bless this woman, Maricela. Help her to find peace in your bosom and rest at your throne. Peace may not be hers on earth, but it shall be her reward in heaven. Thou hast brought us here, humble before you, to confront evil. And after this day, we shall tell no man of it, as Thine scripture guides us to do.
“Thank you, O Lord, for Your son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray today. Amen.”
“Amen,” the elders repeated.
“In the name of our Heavenly Father, we command that this woman be released. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen,” Montoya said.
Again, the young elders repeated their agreement. None lifted a hand away from Maricela as they felt the heat from her body. They pressed harder, each silently praying for her body and her soul.
Soon, the fire seemed to retreat from her flesh and some of the men began to weaken and pull their hands back.
“This is not the end,” Martínez whispered. He had felt the boiling subside as well, but took it more as a warning than a conclusion. He reapplied the pressure, the laying on of hands he so firmly believed in, and took a deep breath.
The warmth returned but not to her body. Maricela’s flesh cooled as the soiled mattress on which she lay caught fire. The flames spread up the wall, feeding on the brittle wood and disintegrating cardboard that held the shanty home together. The elders were forced to move back, but Martínez remained.
“This is not the end,” he shouted. “By the power of Heavenly Father; by the power of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood which I hold, we command you to release this woman and this home. We cast thee out, minion of Satan. Get thee behind us, devil!”
Elder Young wrapped his arms around his mission president and tried to pull him away, but the older man’s body had become heavy and immobile. Elders Lund and Bracken went to them, each pulling Young from one side, but now could not budge either man from where the knelt on the floor in front of growing flames.
“LEAVE THIS PLACE!” the croaking voice said, sending a gust of flames over the bodies of the four men nearest Maricela.
Montoya and Griffen, who had been the first to encounter this evil, stood by the door, watching as fire consumed the home, Maricela, and their mission brothers.
“LEAVE OR BE DEVOURED!”
The flames slithered across the floor and kissed the dark shoes of the two young elders. The door banged open and another burst of volcanic air forced them outside. They sat on the cold, dirt road and watched the walls collapse upon six bodies inside, one of whom was granted reprieve before the cleansing fire.
The flames did not spread beyond the walls of the home but rather fed on everything inside. By the time any of the volunteer firefighters arrived, nothing was left to be saved.
Every sliver of wood, each chunk of flesh and bone that could be turned to ash had become so. Near the back of the lot, a pile of darkness rose slightly above the rest of the ash. As Montoya and Griffen stared at it, a breeze blew through and swirled the pile around, then left it indistinguishable from the rest of the cinders.
Montoya stood and pulled Griffen up with him. No one seemed to care who they were or why they were there.
A small crowd had gathered and the two men from another country caught pieces of conversation in the language they were still learning.
“¡Terromoto! ¡Terromoto! ¡El terromoto hizo el incendio!”
And that was what they would believe and tell themselves for twenty years: The earthquake caused the fire. Our friends were trapped inside. We were lucky to escape.
They would tell no man any different.