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Zozobra Burning! (A repost)


dontravis.com blog post #331


Artist: Maria Fanning
DEAR READERS, Radio Station KSJE in Farmington, New Mexico did an interview with me about The Bisti Business. Click on the link provided below (or copy it) to listen to the interview. 

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-dxlzn-a9b9ad

I'd also like to thank Traci HalesVass, Professor Emerita of English and host of the program Writers on 4 Corners on KSJE 90.9 FM, who conducted the interview.

Now to current business:

Given that we’ve concentrated on my later BJ Vinson books, this week, I’d like to call attention to the first one. The Zozobra Incident, released in 2016 by DSP Publications, introduced Burleigh J. Vinson (known as BJ to everyone but two individuals in his world), the former marine, ex-APD detective turned confidential investigator. That’s also when he met his companion, Paul Barton.

In the following excerpt from Chapter 15, BJ attends the burning of Zozobra at the opening of the Santa Fe Fiesta. Let’s watch the sucker go up in flames:


*****

THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT


The crowd grew larger, noisier, and more restive as evening arrived. Booze was banned in the park, but flasks abounded, and they sure as hell didn’t contain sassafras tea. Another band had taken the stage—if anything it was more enthusiastic and louder than the first. Every thump of the bass reverberated inside my chest. It was just like being at an outdoor rock concert. Pretty soon, we’d have to give in to the press of people and stand up, but first, I shared my corned beef sandwich and some water with Darrel.

After that, we stood, and I tried to retrieve my blanket. There were too many people standing on it, so I abandoned it to its fate. Eventually, the decibel level grew to a pitch where conversation became impossible.

We stood and craned our necks to do some more people watching. Just as I figured my back was going to give out, a blare of trumpets heralded the approach of the traditional procession from St. Francis Cathedral. The Conquistador Band approached the base of Zozobra’s stage from a gate that spared them from having to squeeze through the mob. Immediately, the Star Spangled Banner blared through the speakers, and the crowd sang…no shouted along.

Then the tempo switched from triumphant to funereal. Black-robed and hooded Kiwanis members led the parade bearing the effigy of the Mother Mary in the persona of La Conquistadora. Gloomies, eight- and nine-year-old children who dance as ghosts around Zozobra, preceded the Fire Spirit Dancer, the Queen of Gloom, Gloom Princesses, handlers, dignitaries and a seemingly endless host of others.

As darkness fell, a synthesizer blared when white-sheeted Gloomies began cavorting before Zozobra. The Fire Spirit Dancer, clad in a flowing red costume, drove away the mischievous children in an acrobatic dance originally created by a New York ballet dancer especially for the burning. A drum crew added to the din of the frenetic synthesizer. A band added brass and reed as the dance reached its tempestuous climax. Then the master of ceremonies stepped forward and whipped the assembled crowd into a chant of “Burn him! Burn him!”

As the demand for his death grew, Zozobra flailed and roared in protest. I could almost believe he was some grotesque human personification facing a burning at the stake. It was eerie.

At last, Santa Fe’s black-suited mayor took the stage to solemnly pronounce the death sentence to the screaming crowd. Instantly, weird green lights lit the periphery of the doomed monster. As the official stepped away, the crowd broke into a chant again. Cries of anticipation reached a crescendo, grown men shouted, women screamed, and children yelled. And everyone pressed forward for a closer look. For a moment, I wondered if I’d be able to draw another breath. The panic passed, although the pressure continued to mount. The noise was indescribable.

Then the Torch Handler gave in to the demands of the frenzied crowd by touching a brand to the skirts of the giant. Old Man Gloom’s grunts and groans became squeals of agony. His arms flayed helplessly as a white-hot blaze raced up his loins. Thousands of throats let out a deafening roar when the first fusies, little containers of black powder concealed in the marionette, fired off. The band struck up the Mexican revolutionary tune, “La Cucaracha.”

The animated creature continued to flail as parts of him began to come apart. Gloom was now totally consumed by flames. His lower jaw fell away, blasted apart by fireworks concealed in his head. The roaring fire reached for the sky. It was a miracle half of Santa Fe wasn’t incinerated by now. Of course, Zozobra’s auto-da-fécame at the end of New Mexico’s monsoon season when the countryside was wetter than usual—at least in theory.

A deafening roar came from the crowd as the personification of Anxiety came apart. A flaming arm fell to the ground in a burst of sparks. The massive fire seemed to exert a magnetic force, drawing spectators at the rear to press even harder against those in front. The conflagration turned the chilly night warm as Old Sourpuss disintegrated before our eyes. I stole a glance at Darrel. His eyes were glued to the dying monster. He trembled from unconcealed excitement.

The raging inferno collapsed in upon itself and became a mere bonfire. Immediately, the most spectacular fireworks show I’d ever seen began. Rockets flared, shells burst. Vivid, vibrant colors filled the entire sky.


*****


I hope this sparked some interest in The Zozobra Incident for those of you who haven’t read the book.


Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!



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See you next week.


Don


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


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