Black Petals Issue #107, Spring, 2024

Editor's Page
BP Artists' Page
BP Guidelines
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
(After) Life is What You Make It: Fiction by Richard Brown
Gauche Cuisine: Fiction by Gordon L. Stewart
Here's to Forgetfulness: Fiction by Roger Johns
Insights Into the Trajectory of Human Cetacean Communication: Fiction by Andre Bertolino
Mal Ojo: Fiction by M. N. Wiggins
No Dark: Fiction by Bill Dougherty
Overtime: Fiction by Dennison Sleeper
A Cut Above the Rest: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Resemblance: Fiction by James McIntire
Sign of the Times: Fiction by Liam A. Spinage
The Attic Party: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Renovators: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Balance: Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Bawk Dark: Flash Fiction by Michael C. Jessen
The Incident With the Mismatched Man: Flash Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Radio Tower: Flash Fiction by Blair Orr
Take Me With You: Flash Fiction by Steven French
Slippery: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Where Dead Babies Come From: Poem by Nolcha Fox
302 Asylum Avenue: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Another Story: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Home Repairs: Poem by Joseph Danoski
A Creepy Leap Year: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Funeral Memorial: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
BatGrl: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Twin Flame: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Shadow Play: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Dark Ride: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Leviathans of the Void: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sunbursts: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Into the Eyes: Poem by Anthony Bernstein
Airtime: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Gloria: Poem by Peter Mladinic
The Sorcerer: Poem by C. Walker
Frozen Eve: Poem by C. Walker

M. N. Wiggins: Mal Ojo

Art by Henry Stanton © 2024

Mal Ojo

Story by M N Wiggins


Isabella exited the exam room and trudged toward the green light of the next one, like a moth to a bug zapper. A radio broadcast floated down the clinic hallway.

      “Another body was discovered today, this one near Central University Medical. Police say a thirty-two-year-old construction worker was strangled to death, bringing the Ghost Killer’s count to six over the past three months. Still without witnesses, Police can only guess at the murderer’s description, estimating him to be between five ten and six one, eighteen to thirty years old, and of muscular build. Citizens are encouraged to stay indoors and avoid traveling alone. The latest victim was last seen walking toward a CU parking deck around—”

      “Aubrey, shut that off.” Isabella rubbed her temples. Can’t believe they over-booked me again. Her shoulders slumped as she entered the exam room with a cursory knock. A pleasant-looking woman sat in the exam chair, her hands in the lap of her pantsuit, a trendy design worn by women half her age. Isabella noted her flats—more sensible than the outfit. The woman was the last patient Isabella would ever examine.

      Isabella launched into her usual spiel with a lifeless smile and handshake. “Hi. So sorry we’re running behind. I’m Dr. Urbano. What a beautiful necklace. Where did you find that?” Without waiting for an answer, Isabella turned her back and typed into the computer. “I see you turned 89 last month, Mrs. Rodriguez.” Click-click-click. “That’s wonderful. Happy birthday.” Click-click-click. Isabella’s fingers zipped over the keyboard—keys so worn the letters nearly indistinguishable.

      She sighed as she clicked boxes in the medical record, the same boxes she would click for everyone on her schedule today, the same ones she’d clicked for every patient since joining Central University, boxes with drop downs that demanded more clicks as a form of tribute for the benevolent granting of screen advancement, modern-day electronic versions of medieval ogres blocking the ravine’s solitary bridge. By now, Isabella’s clicks were more cerebellum than frontal cortex—a rat endlessly tapping a lever for another food pellet or hit of cocaine. Her clicking mind wandered.

      How do they expect me to see this many people? Click-click-click. And that fat-cat chairman. Sitting in his office all day, half clinic a week, no call, pulling down four times my salary. Coming down on me about RVU production? Click-click-click. Why do I still work here? For the honor and glory of being an assistant professor at good ole CU? Please. Click-click-click. Up late every night doing EMR. Can’t remember the last time I got laid. Like a Mrs. Potato Head, Isabella pulled a smile out of her hindquarters, popped it onto her face, and turned to Mrs. Rodriguez. “Now, what can I do for you?” She tugged the slit lamp over and motioned Mrs. Rodriguez in.

      Mrs. Rodriguez smiled without moving. “My name is Maria Contreras-Rodriguez.”

      With a half-hidden shrug, Isabella nudged the slit lamp closer. “It says you didn’t want to tell the technician what’s bothering you. Maybe you could tell me? Place your chin in here, please.”

      Mrs. Rodriguez didn’t budge. “Yes, doctor. I have much to tell you.”

      “Great. Chin in here, please. And could you please remove your eye patch? Did you have an injury?”

      Mrs. Rodriguez sat very still with her hands in her lap. “¿Habla español?”

      Isabella shook her head. “Never learned. How about I take a peek first, then we can chat about what I see? Please come into the slit lamp, ma’am.”

      “No, doctor. What is your full name?”

      Isabella glanced at her watch. “I’m here to help you, ma’am.” She turned back to the computer. Click-click-click. “If you don’t feel up to it, we can reschedule. Looks like our next available is in seven months.” Isabella shot her a raised eyebrow. “How does that sound? Or may I please examine you?” Isabella inched the slit lamp closer.

      Mrs. Rodriguez remained unmoved.

      Isabella smiled and rose from her stool. “Aubrey will help you to checkout. So nice to meet you, Mrs. . . . ”—she glanced back at the screen—“Rodriguez.” Isabella reached to push the room’s indicator light, but a hand with unexpected strength clamped her arm. Her head spun around. Mrs. Rodriguez, in the exam chair a moment ago, now loomed at her side.

      “No, Dr. Urbano.” Mrs. Rodriguez released her arm and shuffled back to the chair. “I apologize if I’ve frightened you. I know you are here for me, just as I am here for you. In my culture, our culture, this is always the case. It is why they call it a visit, no?”

      Isabella put on her best sorority smile but couldn’t hide her ears, now as red as the marks on her arm. The nerve. Wasting time I don’t have. I have patients waiting. She glanced at her watch and squeezed her eyes, envisioning angry patients—the looks, the snide comments about respect for time, and that guy, because there was always one, who elevated ranting to an art form,  using the futility of appointment times as his canvas and paint. Isabella thought of the perpetual apology rounds she suffered every day. This woman had no idea the pressure she was under. This lady likely didn’t care. And she’d touched her.

      Isabella straightened her white coat. “May I examine you, then?”

      “No, doctor. I have much to tell you.”

      A knock at the door, and Aubrey’s head poked in. “Sorry to interrupt, Dr. Urbano. We have a small emergency that requires your attention.”

      Isabella nodded. This was a lie. Aubrey was her lead tech and a damn good one. When Isabella got stuck with a patient, this was the signal to wrap it up and move along. She’d already spent several minutes longer than allotted.

      “Thank you, Aubrey. I’ll be right there. Mrs. Rodriguez, please let me help you.”

      “You may help by listening, doctor.”

      Isabella leaned back on her stool. “Fine, ma’am. Fire away.” She turned. Click-click-click.

      “No, doctor. You need to listen. What is your full name?”

      Isabella glanced at her watch. What did it matter now? This lady had pushed the first rock of an avalanche. Every lost minute propagated with each successive patient. Morning clinic would merge with afternoon appointments. Her usual six-minute lunch, shotgunning half a chicken wrap, was gone. Any hopes of getting out ahead of rush hour were now fantasy. And all because of one patient, a clinic toe-stumper, as it was known. Isabella sighed. Maybe with some luck, she’d have a few no-shows today. Any way it went, today would suck, but like every other overbooked clinic day, this one would eventually end. Why not give an old woman her five minutes? She’s 89. She’s earned it.

      Isabella managed a smile that included her eyes. “My name is Isabella Cortinas-Urbano. And I’m listening.”

      Mrs. Rodriguez tilted her head back. “You should have more pride in where you come from.”

      “I’m from Denver, ma’am.”

      Mrs. Rodriguez took a deep breath and leaned forward. “In my country, there is a story of a stranger who arrived in a village one day. No one thought much of him as he was an old man. But he soon began killing people with a knife, a rope, a stone—whatever was at hand. He killed men, women, children. It did not matter. No one knew how such an old man could have the strength to kill so many, but he did. All the people fled except one young man. He was not afraid and fought him, but was no match. The old man pinned him, but instead of killing him with a knife or a rock, he stared at him, inches away. The young man heard him say, I see you. But the old man’s lips had not moved. He continued to lock eyes with the young man, then let him go. The old man left and was never seen again. This is the story the young man told his eye doctor, a doctor about your age, Dr. Urbano.”

      Isabella shrugged. “Okay?”

      “You see, the young man had since been arrested for murder. And while in his cell, he’d worked hard to tear out his eye. He was sent, under heavy guard, to the local university hospital to see the ophthalmologist. His eye was very bloody, with bruising all around. He told his story to the doctor and begged the doctor to remove the eye. The young man was convinced the old man had given him mal ojo.

      Isabella smiled. “Given him what?”

      Mal ojo, the evil eye, a common affliction in my country.” Mrs. Rodriguez held up her charm. “Children wear amulets for protection like this one. It is called ojo de venado, deer’s eye. Your grandmother never taught you these things?”

      “My grandmother is a Chiefs fan. I’m die-hard Broncos. We don’t talk.”

      Mrs. Rodriguez’s eye narrowed. “The young man said mal ojo spoke to him—made him do a terrible thing. But like you, the young eye doctor did not believe in such things. Growing up in the city with privilege and education, the doctor had chosen a life of science.” She held up an arthritic finger. “But every myth starts with truth. Many believe that mal ojo has plagued humanity for centuries, and the young man clearly believed. He had been convicted and sentenced to death but still demanded the eye gone.

      “The doctor asked to examine the young man to prove there was nothing but a traumatized eye, or perhaps the doctor wanted to see mal ojo first-hand. The young man refused at first but saw it was the only way to get his operation and agreed. The doctor looked into the young man’s eye and found nothing unusual. But, as the doctor pulled away, there was a hint of something in the edge of the doctor’s view. On second look, it was nothing. The doctor was about to dismiss the man back to prison, but he begged the doctor to look again. This time, the—how do you say it—optic nerve?”

      Isabella nodded, not realizing how far forward she now sat on her exam stool.

      “This time, as the doctor examined the optic nerve, the . . . ratio? This is the word?”

      Isabella nodded again. “Cup-to-disc ratio.”

      “Yes, yes. The cup-to-disc ratio changed . . . while the doctor observed. And then—”

      A knock came at the door. Aubrey’s head poked in. “Dr. Urbano?”

      Isabella’s hand shot up. “I’m with a patient, Aubrey. Be there shortly.” She looked back to Mrs. Rodriguez. “The CDR changed? On the spot? Then what?”

      “Then the doctor heard the young man say, I see you. But his lips had not moved. The doctor was compelled to look at the optic nerve again, and it winked.”

      “No shit?”

      “Sí, es verdad. The doctor examined again. Each time, the eye was different. Once it would look normal, next there would be a tumor, then it would disappear. Then the nerve would appear swollen, then there would be blood, then normal. The eye was toying with the doctor. But no matter the appearance, one thing remained constant—a feeling of evil.”

      “What did he do?”

      “The doctor still did not believe in demons or spirits and theorized this was an unknown parasite, one that might propagate along ultraviolet light. The doctor suspected it most likely had invaded the young man’s optic nerve, which, if I understand correctly, is connected to the brain.”

      Isabella nodded. “That’s right and could explain the voice that he heard. But how did the doctor hear it?”

      “The doctor suspected the parasite possessed telepathic ability.”

      “That’s ridiculous.”

      Mrs. Rodriguez shrugged. “You can accept a self-aware parasite spreading through light with the intelligence to demand murder from its host and can change the appearance of an exam for amusement, but telepathy is where you draw the line?”

      “Okay, let’s say that’s possible. Why make the host commit murders? That doesn’t benefit the organism. If the host gets caught and killed, the parasite dies.”

      “The story does not say. Perhaps the creature, be it demon or parasite, simply needs a constant supply of hosts, killing those not fit and inhabiting those who are. Perhaps it must kill many to find one. If mal ojo has been around for centuries, it would know how to survive.”

      Isabella folded her arms. “Then how come I’ve never heard of it?”

      “Perhaps it is rare here. Perhaps it prefers our people as hosts.” Mrs. Rodriguez gave a wry smile. “Perhaps if you had bothered to learn your heritage or your language. Perhaps if you’d listened to your grandmother. Perhaps if you had been a Chief’s fan.”

      Isabella held up her hand. “That’s never gonna happen. Did the doctor do the enucleation? I mean, take out the eye?”

      “Oh, yes. But there is a saying. Perhaps you know it. You never get all of the optic nerve with an enucleation.”

      Isabella nodded. “That’s true. So, if the doctor didn’t get it all—how do you know so much about Ophthalmology?”

      Mrs. Rodriguez smiled. “In my country, I was Dr. Maria Contreras-Rodriguez. I was young and pretty like you when I first examined that young man—about four months ago. It turns out, Isabella, you cannot rid mal ojo with trinkets or the chants of curanderos. Enucleation or exenteration, I’ve learned, are equally useless. There is only one way.” She lifted the patch, revealing an empty socket lined in necrotic tissue with small mounds swarming just beneath the black surface. “Mal ojo takes its toll on your body, but, I think, you will enjoy the killings.”

      Isabella could not look away and heard Maria say, “I see you.” But her lips did not move.

MN Wiggins has written in the medical field for over two decades. His works include two novels, The Sugarfield Sugar Cookie and Letters of the Arkansas Traveler, and a collection of short stories, Magical Arkansas Tales. His most recent story can be found in Medicine and Meaning.

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