Gather ’round. This little horror story puts a different twist on “roadside shrines”.
Roadside shrines can be seen on almost any major highway in the world. In the United States, they are common throughout the Southwest, especially on Highway 86 between Tucson and Why, Arizona. This two lane road cuts through the lands of Tohono O’odham nation.
Shrines on the reservation serve multiple purposes. Many are placed as memorials to loved ones who died while walking or driving at a specific location. Others are to honor a vow or prayer. And still more offer tribute to the Virgin Mary. The shrines for highway deaths are also referred to as “descansos”.
On some unpaved roads through the reservation, you might see an elaborate grotto or altar built into a mountainside. These are usually family or special group shrines that feature statues of the Holy Mother or a saint. Often, during a religious feast or celebration, a ramada is set up nearby to serve food to attendees.
Not all shrines look alike. Some are simple white crosses etched with a name and date. Others are elaborate stone or brick grottos filled with religious figurines, candles and offerings. They might be located a few feet from the highway shoulder, or elevated high on a hillside. It’s not uncommon to see shrines and grottos in residential yards.
The unwritten etiquette for viewing shrines is If the front faces toward the road, visitors are allowed to pay their respect. If it faces away from the road, especially on private property, it is intended for that family’s personal use and not mean for public visitations.
by Debra S. Sanders
I’m a thief. Big deal.
I never stole from the poor – just from those who have more than they need. There’s a point where these rich bastards got so much money, they stop counting. Then when they die, their families put on a show with a big funeral, dressing up the dead with things they can’t use when they’re six feet under.
My mama used to say “waste not, want not” so I decided to help myself to a few trinkets just so they don’t go to waste. I guess that makes me a grave robber. At least, I was until Shorty Long spilled his guts to the feds about a gold necklace I showed him.
Some partner he turned out to be. Now I’m on the lam and I got nobody to fence my goods.
So I was thinkin’ . . . if I gotta lay low anyway, I might as well be someplace warm. Who wants to huddle around a fire with a bunch of homeless guys on the banks of the Mississippi? Everyone thinks Memphis is great until they spend a winter here. The wind blowing off the river is cold enough to freeze a gargoyle’s ass.
It took three days of hitchhiking but I finally made it to southern Arizona. It ain’t exactly the tropical paradise I imagined but at least it’s warmer than Memphis. I left Tucson yesterday. Figured I’d put my thumb out on the two lane highway that heads west through the Indian reservation . . . Tohono oooooodham, or however the hell you say it. The back roads are safer but man, there ain’t nothin’ out here except cactus, coyotes and border patrol.
Nobody’s offered me a ride, not even the tourists driving their big motorhomes. Damn Feds got people scared to death. They think every hitchhiker is a freakin’ illegal from Mexico. Well, take a look, assholes . . . I got blonde hair and blue eyes.
I may be a thief but at least I’m legal . . . hahahaha!
Last night I slept in a wash under an Ironwood tree. Kept a small fire goin’ to chase away the chill. I had no idea the desert could get so cold at night. I’m so hungry, my ribs are beginning to rub against my backbone. I ain’t had nothin’ to eat since yesterday when I snatched a loaf of bread out of some chick’s cart in a Walmart parking lot. My mouth tastes like I swallowed a handful of dust. If I don’t get some money soon, I could die out here.
Geez, it’s hot. I need some water. Hey, ask and you shall receive! What’s this up ahead? A pump house?
Hang on, nope it’s a . . . shrine? You gotta be kiddin’ me. Look at this cross and religious shit. And . . . oh, my. Ain’t this sweet? Somebody put a silver bracelet next to these flowers.
I bet I can pawn it for a few bucks. Dumbasses. Who would leave a perfectly good bracelet like that out in the open? Whoa, check out this photo. Cute chick. Isabelle Sa . . . . whatever. Some kind of Indian name, I guess.
I reckon your family musta built this little memorial thingy after you died. I heard about people doin’ stuff like that. You don’t mind sharin’ the wealth, do you, darlin’? It’s not like you can use it on the other side. Let me take a look at this picture again. Damn, baby, you ain’t bad lookin’, at all. If’n you was alive, I might just show ya a good time.
Oops, there’s a car comin’. Gotta scoot. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya. Hahahaha…..
Phew, that was a close call. I barely had enough time to hide behind those bushes before the driver saw me. No matter, I scored good on that shrine. Candles to keep me warm. A silver bracelet to pawn. And a photo of a pretty girl to look at when I jack off. Not bad.
Okay, this is gettin’ old. I’ve been walking for over an hour. Found two more of those little shrines. Didn’t get nothin’ from the first one. Pissed me off, too, cuz I had to climb over a bunch of damn rocks to reach it. But I got a jar of coins at the last one – came to just over five bucks and some change. I figure that will buy me a burger and beer.
Man, this sun is brutal. I’m roastin’ like a chicken on a spit. I had to tear off the tail of my shirt to use as a head band. Damn sweat kept drippin’ in my eyes. At least I got this bottle of water somebody tossed out. It was half full. God, I hope nobody slobbered in the damn thing. <sniff, sniff> Smells okay. Tastes okay. Alrighty, then, guess I can keep goin’.
What the hell? Another frickin’ shrine? Ain’t these Indians got nothin’ better to do than build shit for dead people? I hope to God there’s somethin’ good inside. I mean, hell, I’m usin’ my time and energy to check these damn things so somebody better make it worth my while. The jerk who died was probably a drunk, anyway. There’s broken whiskey and beer bottles everywhere you look. I guess when these folks aren’t building shrines, they’re drinking. Can’t say I blame them. This place has gotta be the ass crack of the nation.
Okay, what have we got? Flowers. Check. They all got plastic flowers. Ain’t worth nothin’. Crucifix. Don’t need no religion today, thank you very much. Some kind of bird feathers. Yuck. Hmmm . . . and this. A little box. Jewelry box?
Well, hell yeah! Looks like a silver charm. Maybe I can put it on the bracelet and sell ‘em together. At this rate, I’m gonna be a millionaire before I reach the other side of the reservation. Hahahaha…..
I gotta eat somethin’ soon. All this shrine robbin’ worked up a fierce appetite. I ain’t passed a town or nothin’. Wait a sec . . . is that a light? I think there’s a house way back there. Maybe I can talk ‘em into giving me some food. I bet they get lost travelers all the time.
“Hey, old man!” Dang, he looks like he’s been knockin’ on death’s door for about ten years. <snicker> I crack me up some times. “Hey, mister. Can you spare something to eat?” Well talk, you old fart. Don’t just stand there and stare. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ve been walking for most of the day. I’m hot, hungry and thirsty. Think you could help out a stranger in need?”
Aw, hell. This guy ain’t got no teeth and his face looks like boot leather. He’s one ugly SOB. “I don’t have any money but what if I give you this bracelet? It’s gotta be worth a sandwich and soda.”
That’s right. Take it. Okay, you can stare at it as much as you want . . . after you get me somethin’ to eat. Wait . . . come back here. “Hey, don’t take that unless you aim to give me some food!”
Oh, good, he’s coming back. What the hell is he carrying? It don’t look like food. And it smells like . . . somethin’ dead. Stupid old fart is putting his hand in there. FUCK!!!
“Whaddya blow that crap on me? It’s in my eyes . . . and nose. What the hell is this? Dust? Ash? You son of a bitch!”
I can’t see. My eyes are burning like crazy. Where is the old cuss? If I get my hands on you . . .
“Hey . . . dude . . . get up. I didn’t mean to punch you so hard. Dude. Old man . . . get up . . .”
Aw, hell. That’s blood. He must have hit his head on a rock when he fell. Okay . . . okay. Breathe. Go inside. Grab some food and water and get out of here before someone shows up.
It’s not as cold tonight. Or maybe I’m not feelin’ it ‘cause I got a full belly. The old man had some decent food, I’ll give him that. I don’t even feel bad about him dyin’. He was ancient. If it’d been me, I’d rather go quick like that than linger around fighting off cancer or some old people’s disease. Guess that makes me the angel of death. <snicker>
Ahhhh, now this is a good. I got a warm fire, a thick blanket and a sack of grub. Look at them stars. Damn! You never see stars like that in Memphis.
Huh? What’s that? “Somebody out there?”
Somethin’ moved by that cactus. There it is again. Friggin’ illegals are tryin’ to steal my food. I ain’t got no gun. Nothin’ to defend myself. Geezus!
“Okay, amigos . . . you can have my food. I’m just gonna back away. No harm. No foul.”
What the hell is that? “W . . . who are you?”
Fuckin’ shadows are moving. Everything is moving. How many of these fuckers are there? Huh? It can’t be . . . my eyes are playin’ tricks. But it sure as hell looks like . . . “Isabelle?” Who’s that behind her?
Go, go, go. Need to get out of here – shit’s goin’ down. What the hell? “Hey . . . old man . . . I thought you was dead. I thought . . .”
Oh . . . God . . . that hurts. Feels like someone ripped open my chest. What the hell is he laughing about? “This ain’t funny, assholes!” I can’t move. Can’t breathe. They’re circling me. All I can see are their painted Day of the Dead faces, laughing . . . at my heart in the old man’s hand.
Aw, fuck . . .
Three weeks later.
“Look, Daddy. There’s another shrine. That’s the sixth one we’ve passed since we left Tucson. Can we stop?”
“Okay, kiddo, but just this once or we’ll never reach Organ Pipe National Monument.”
The little girl bolted from the car as soon as her father stopped and ran to the arched shrine. Her eyes widened with awe. “Why do they build these, Daddy?”
“I think it marks the place where someone died. But other people can visit and light candles, or pray for their souls. Would you like to do that, honey?”
“Yes, please.” The little girl put her hands together and bowed her head. After a few seconds, she swiveled to meet her father’s bemused expression. “The man who died here said I could have the silver bracelet and coins. Is it okay, Daddy?”
“No, you must never take anything from the shrines. The mementos were left for those who passed on. They contain a little piece of their soul. If you take it, you might bring them home with you.”
“Oh . . . okay.” She turned back around, lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m sorry, mister. You have to stay here – with your friends.”