When two dolphins surfaced and smiled at Ruby Arenas she laughed so hard she got a mouthful of salt water. A normal morning swim in the Gulf of Mexico turned even more joyous than usual as Ruby took long strokes, cutting through blue-white waves, propelling herself through warm water that refreshed her more than she could remember.
Unbeknownst to her, though, the heart of her physical and mental discipline lay just below the water’s surface – in her face and close enough to taste. Training to fight felt wrong. Ruby loved peace, worked for peace, expected peace. But nowadays evil too often arose unexpectedly, baring sharpened teeth and jaws to hunt, kill and destroy. As good as Ruby felt, she knew her imminent duel to the death with demon Becky would soon begin.
Becky exuded evil. Bleeding psychic carnage into Kim Phillips’ mind, she poisoned everyone and everything she touched. As Ruby glided through the water’s warm embrace she wondered if she possessed the courage to successfully confront such hatred and bitter malice. Evil defines inhumanity. Becky oozed raw evil.
Becky had infested Kim’s spirit many years before, overtaking her mind, inhabiting her awareness as the worst of several split personalities. Born as protector, conjured as savior to help Kim cope and survive trauma, instead of protection Becky supplied retribution, turning kindly Kim into killer Kim, a vindictive beast instead of the beautiful person Ruby knew Kim to be.
As soon as the dolphins fled Ruby sensed trouble. Beware when dolphins stop smiling, she thought. Now she saw the thick gray-white fin moving her way. Protruding a foot from the water, the fin cut a swath through strong current as easily as a sharp blade moving through key lime pie. Turning her head to exert a stronger stroke, Ruby felt darkness overtake light as Santa Muerte’s face replaced the fiery oval of the sun.
“This is your final test,” the Mexican death saint told her goddaughter. “Your performance today determines whether you live to take my place.”
Breaking the surface with the power of a natural submarine, a 17-foot great white shark arose showing bloodstained teeth. A murderous mask mirroring Becky’s face replaced the shark’s face. Ruby almost stopped swimming. How do you fight a great white shark and a demon at the same time? A great white shark instilled with a savage split personality, a monstrous great white on the prowl, is bad enough. But a multiple personality great white sends sadistic shivers up the back of the devil himself.
Diving, Ruby surprised the shark by swimming beneath its belly. Coming up on the other side, the shark momentarily lost track of Ruby’s whereabouts. Rolling left the great mammal lowered its massive body enough for Ruby to grab its fin, pull herself up like a bucking bronco rider and hang on for dear life.
Becky’s voice cackled through the air bubbles.
“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Becky said.
This can’t possibly be real, Ruby thought, trying to convince herself the Becky-faced fiend had materialized as a horrible figment of her imagination, a hallucination brought on by intense water temperature, hyperventilation due to irregular breathing in rough water, a panic attack. Maybe Santa Muerte’s powerful mental presence that seemingly appeared on the wrong side of goodness for the first time in Ruby’s life would finally claim her. Maybe Ruby would fail the test.
Ruby focused on her breath and tried to stay calm.
“I am the light,” she told herself. “I am powerful. I am Santa Muerte only if I prevail.”
Now the gigantic frenzied fish dove deeper, twisting and turning as if she knew she had a rider on her back, an unwelcome visitor who appeared like an itch you just couldn’t reach to scratch. Curling, spinning, opening and closing her jaws, the shark did her best to shake Ruby who tightly clutched the fin with both hands. Again changing direction, the shark rose with great speed, allowing Ruby to catch her breath before the great white dove again, scattering schools of small fish that swam for cover.
“Ride ’em cowboy,” Ruby heard Becky yell.
Up and down and up and down they went in a seemingly endless nautical roller coaster ride. Ruby worried she couldn’t hang on much longer until she realized she wouldn’t have to. Coming fast from the western horizon, a very gargantuan danger approached. In the distance Ruby saw the water spout – not the tornado type but the spout of water that erupts from a killer whale’s blowhole. Fast closing the distance, the great white shark’s only predator sped to the rescue.
“Thank you, Orca,” Ruby said.
Becky screamed, “Thar she blows!”
Ruby let go of the fin, swimming as fast as she could to escape the impending war between the titans. This massive marine mammal, a blood relative cousin to the two dolphins Ruby had earlier befriended, kept coming with all the power of a runaway train. Emerging and swimming excitedly in circles around Ruby, the two dolphins who had gone for help came through in a potentially deadly pinch.
The dolphins smiled.
One of them winked.
The great white couldn’t get away.
Ruby scanned the sky for Santa Muerte, but the bony lady had disappeared Craving peace even in what looked like a soon-to-come battle to the death, Ruby used the increasing power she felt to command a bloodless resolution to this unnatural natural dilemma. As the next Santa Muerte she expected nonviolence even from predators.
Ruby focused and transmitted to the beasts the vital life energy the Japanese call ki, the Chinese call chi and Indian mystics call prana. Ruby called the force her spirit.
Instead of slamming into the great white, the whale abruptly slowed, pulling alongside the smaller creature like an ocean cruise ship docking in a tropical paradise. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Not every killer whale must kill. Not every great white meat eater must either. Wild animals can make peace. The shark backed off, gliding safely to serenity, taking Becky with her.
Blasting one final gushing geyser, the Orca turned back to the vast seascape, joining her cousins for a final family dip in their earthly pool before parting. Ruby swore her sister dolphins blew her a kiss.
Treading water, trying to catch her breath and understand the magnitude of what just happened, Ruby allowed the current to carry her to shore where Kim stood holding out a beach towel decorated with images of surfing seagulls wearing Hawaiian shirts and baggie board shorts.
“It’s cool this morning,” Kim said. “I thought you might need this.”
“Did you see what happened out there?” Ruby asked, quickly noticing how Kim’s skin glistened through a sparkling aura that encircled her whole body, a blue hued resilience that Ruby felt fill her own body.
“It was like watching a horror movie with a happy ending,” Kim said. “I feel heavy mental chains breaking free from my brain. I feel like I ascended into the cosmos of no beginning and no end. My new psychiatrist, Dr. Carney, has been working with me. She gave me a new prescription and suggested I come to the beach, sit in the sand and meditate. So I did. For the first time in my life I followed the doctor’s orders.”
“Good for you,” said Ruby.
“RayRay hooked me up with her,” Kim said. “He’s the best big brother I could have.”
“It’s a long story,” Kim said.
“Don’t I know it,” Ruby said.
Kim’s facial expression showed a beatitude Ruby had never before witnessed.
“I thought I saw a whale hugging a great white shark out there,” Kim said. “I must have been daydreaming happy thoughts.”
“You deserve some happy thoughts,” Ruby said. ”We all do.”
Within swirling white clouds in a broad blue sky, Santa Muerte’s image now appeared brighter than usual, wearing a garland of fresh red roses around her neck and a rainbow-colored hood over her skull.
Santa Muerte winked.