Left at the Altar

by Dieter

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is nothing more than fantasy. It was not written to be offensive to anyone. Based on an adjustment to history, it is meant to show what might have possibly been different. From the perspective of western culture, it does not have a happy ending.

The young woman sat on the short wall behind a small staging building at the edge of the ceremonial plaza. As planned, she was hidden from view of anyone nearby. One leg crossed over the other, she fretfully jiggled her free foot with a sandal dangling from its toes. Xochitl, inhaling insatiably, smoked without restraint revealed by the previous four butts she’d abandoned on the sidewalk. Since her fiancé had always disliked her addiction, she had intended to give it up someday. But this was not the right time.

Observing the landscape in the distance, the sun reflected brilliantly from the skyscrapers of downtown Tenochtitlan. As the magnifying lenses of her glasses unexpectedly seared her eyes, she hastily looked down. Once the sensation of the blackened view wore off, Xochitl could see the shadowed grounds of the large National Zoo directly below the hillside on which she was sitting. Like her, the animals seemed unusually impatient. She jerked suddenly when she felt a hand touch her shoulder.

“Oh, you frightened me, Toltecatl!” she huffed while standing to face him.

“Because I caught you smoking, again?” he asked.

“It suppresses my appetite,” she replied. “I’ve been starving myself for weeks. I want to look perfect in my dress . . . . . and without it.”

“There are healthier ways to do that . . .” he began to scold.

“Don’t lecture me on healthy lifestyles at a time like this,” Xochitl replied without wavering to breathe, “and you know I was planning to quit when we started making babies. In fact, I was preparing to sacrifice everything for you.”

“. . . and you always look perfect,” Toltecatl added with a smile.

“When naked, one can never look too perfect,” she countered. “Anyway, you shouldn’t be here. The Priests would be furious. This is supposed to be my time of reflection and prayer before the ceremony starts.”

Without speaking, Toltecatl embraced her passionately. She laid her chin on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him securely. Holding the cigarette in her hand, the smoke wafted behind his back and neck. She knew he would dislike the odor that it would leave clinging to his clothes and hair.

“Well, he can be furious with me later,” she thought.

He was hugging so tightly that her glasses were twisted on her face and gouging her nose. A Priest poked his head from the back door of the building to inform her that the ceremony should commence.

“Toltecatl,” he admonished, “it is wrong for you to be here. You should already have taken up your position for the ceremony. Now leave!”

The two lovers took one final look before Toltecatl released his clasp and walked away. He’d wanted to give her a last kiss but, for several reasons, knew he would never have been allowed. And he was already beginning to miss looking into those spectacular eyes behind the lenses of her fabulous tortoiseshell frames.

“And you, young lady,” the Priest continued, “time to go! The Gods will be displeased that you have not been in meditation. You are expected to be completely tranquil and serene.”

“That statement is redundant,” Xochitl wisecracked. “Anyway, the Gods will have to accept me as I am today.”

Enduring the condemnatory look of the Priest, she took a lengthy drag of the cigarette finishing it in one breath. She held the smoke deeply savoring the little head rush that it provided. Dropping the cigarette to the sidewalk, she exhaled a nearly clear stream of air. She followed to the front of the building and found her place for the processional behind the four Priests. But Xochitl was disappointed because, despite the quick respite with her fiancé and having chain smoked five cigarettes, she was tenser than ever.

With drums and musical instruments playing loudly, Xochitl knew that everything would be very different had she made love with her fiancé. She had been eager to enjoy the pleasures of sex for quite some time. She dreamed of their encounters; of Toltecatl speaking softly in her ear, of being touched by him alone, of being kissed in her most private places, of being tasted, of being penetrated. She fanaticized of the days and nights they would spend together, naked and unashamed. She wished to be consumed by him until spent and exhausted. She had envisioned the beautiful babies that the blending of their genes would create. He had urged waiting until marriage sighting religious beliefs. And yet, in her heart, Xochitl had accepted that her fiancé had made the correct decision about their fates.

All eyes watched as Xochitl was escorted towards the altar. The young woman’s beauty was beyond comprehension. Tall, willowy, and lithe, her cocoa-colored skin glistened naturally. Wearing a white strapless dress with a shiny patina, her elongated legs were nearly hidden by the long hemline, the only exception being the enticing slit that revealed one leg to mid thigh. Carrying a small bundle of young green stalks of maize, she strolled gracefully despite the excessive height of the corral-colored sandals on her feet.

A stylish neckband had been clasped tightly around her long neck while matching armlets had been placed around both upper arms. Each of them was a wide band made of copper adorned with hand crafted depictions of birds and reptiles. ‘On loan’ until the end of the ceremony, they represented gifts from all the peoples as the young woman would begin a new life. Dangling from each ear lobe, were silver earrings decorated with turquoise stones embellished with small bird feathers. A Birthday present from her father, they represented gifts from her family. Obviously, they were hers to keep forever. A faint yellow Tigridia Pavonia affixed above one ear was befitting of one whose name meant ‘flower’. Of her own choosing, it represented a gift of nature from the Gods. Other than the attached flower, her black hair plummeted freely to the middle of her bare back. Its magnificence was exceeded only by her fabulous tortoiseshell glasses.

For many years, Toltecatl had dreamt of the fabulous day when he could remove Xochitl’s name from the list of virginity. He had studied and trained to attain a profession that would allow his ability to propose marriage. Though five years her senior, he had witnessed her blossoming from a child to a woman. But from his perspective, she had always been perfect in every way; not one of royalty, but regal despite the humble roots of her family.

The Mesoamerican people had been the only natives of America to survive fully the onslaught of European invaders. When Cortez led the Spanish in hopes of riches, the Gods smiled and sent a series of hurricanes to destroy his fleet in the waters off the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. That devastation cut the necessary supplies to his armies. The Mexica-Aztecs quickly regrouped with a string of treaties to merge the societies of most Mesoamerican tribes. The combined power of the newly formed nation of MayaAzteca allowed them to fend off external imperialism. The city of Tenochtitlan, which was even then the largest city in the world, was declared the capital.

In the centuries that followed, the great nation flourished. Because the peoples had never been conquered, their culture remained intact. Like the philosophy of most Native Americans, its principles were founded and maintained with a spirit of communal cooperation to provide for the health and welfare of all citizens. It remained a relatively closed society, allowing little in the way of immigration. But with great lands, natural resources, a system of waterways, it had access to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. MayaAzteca built railroads, factories, a shipping industry, and highways. Dams, power stations, modern buildings and homes were constructed. During the industrial revolution, it was equaled only by their neighbors to the north, The United States of America. Possessing great scholars, mathematicians, and scientists, it had built a system of education unrivaled by any nation.

In modern times, they were known as the ‘Switzerland of the Americas’ amassing riches and avoiding world conflicts. Since the time of the Model T, MayaAzteca had developed ethanol fuels to use as Henry Ford had intended. As the Model T and other automobiles of the time could be propelled by many fuels, gasoline had been cheap and prevalent in most nations. But with an abundance of jungle-like foliage, MayaAzteca had the resources and the scientific understanding to make use of plant life available to produce an excess of ethanol for trade. With decades of a head start, they had become leaders in biofuels of all types which proved to be of great interest to the world. That interest provided prosperity.

That great wealth had allowed MayaAzteca to create the second most literate society in the world. Not only did the majority graduate with university educations, it possessed the highest per capita rate of advanced degrees of all nations. Of greater interest, though, was their lust for eyewear.

Over the past fifty years, the people of MayaAzteca had developed not only a reverence for wearers of eyeglasses, but most specifically for those with hypermetropia. Of those found to have refractive errors, only 12% were farsighted. The only explanation that researchers had found for the preference was the simple fact that those with hyperopia were in the diminutive minority and, therefore, more of a rarity. For whatever reason, modern men and women were more infatuated of their chosen sex when wearing beguiling glasses. Those men and women were held in highest regard because of their prevalence of education, obvious intelligence, and of course their beauty. And yes, without a doubt, Xochitl was one of the preeminent.

Upon reaching the base, the processional group ascended the steps of the pyramid shaped altar. Xochitl looked apprehensive, as could be expected. Toltecatl could see tears flowing from her eyes behind the gorgeous lenses in her fabulous tortoiseshell frames. He hoped that they were tears of joy. Abruptly, the music stopped. 

“She truly is stunning, Toltecatl,” his best friend whispered. “You certainly have been blessed.”

Toltecatl nodded in agreement but despite the circumstances was not feeling fortunate. And yet, in his heart, he knew Xochitl had accepted that he had made the correct decision about their fates.

“Before us this woman is presented for viewing,” the High Priest declared. “As the hyperopic one chosen today, she is but the young age of twenty, an authenticated virgin, and possesses the greatest beauty as can be witnessed by all the Gods and peoples!”

As was the new custom, Xochitl gave the bundle of maize to one Priest while another presented to her an ornamental tray. On it was a hand-rolled cigarette that was long with a substantial girth. Filled with a tobacco-like substance, it resembled more of a small cigar neatly wrapped in white paper. As had been rehearsed previously, Xochitl retrieved the cigarette, placed it between her lips holding it with two fingers in the shape of a ‘V’, and waited patiently. A third Priest struck a ceremonial match and lit the cigarette. Inhaling deeply, she breathed the first draw vivaciously. The young woman relished each successive puff as though it would be her last. In her dark brown eyes, the pupils enlarged from a drug induced state of euphoria that began to reduce her anxiety. As she relaxed, Xochitl assumed the posture of a seasoned smoker placing her free hand on her hip and turning one foot to the side in a high-heeled sandal. She often closed her eyes behind the lenses to inhale while opening them widely to exhale the white smoke from her open lips. 

Toltecatl marveled at the sexiness presented in her carriage. Though he professed to disapprove of smoking, watching her practice of the art had always been quite arousing. Removing her glasses at one point, Xochitl dangled them provocatively by her side. Most males in witness were lusting secretly for the young woman. Toltecatl knew she was unable to recognize faces or even distinguish shapes at any distance. She obviously was inside her own mind in that moment. Eventually returning the glasses to her face with her free hand, she blinked a few times to refocus. The throng of citizens waited tolerantly while she leisurely finished the cigarette.

Xochitl then retrieved a tall slender glass containing a clear liquid from the tray. Holding with both hands, she smelled the solution to enjoy its bouquet and sipped unhurriedly to appreciate the intoxicating flavor. The delightful cocktail took effect as the young woman began to exhibit contentment.

Convinced that Xochitl had reached the suitable state of mind to continue, the High Priest directed, “Xilonen, this woman has been prepared for your acceptance!”

Without further delay, he deftly released the buttons on the back of her dress and watched it fall into a heap around her feet. The crowd bellowed in awe as the young woman was fully exposed. On her being, nothing was hidden from view since the only items remaining were the flower, the jewelry, the sandals, and her fabulous tortoiseshell glasses. For a brief period, the High Priest held his outstretched hand in the small of her back to pose her nude body for examination. Everyone agreed that Xochitl was exquisite.

Two Priests took the fingers of each hand and assisted as she stepped elegantly from the high-heeled corral-colored sandals and slid her bare feet into a shallow ceremonial pool of water. Still holding her fingers, the Priests gracefully placed Xochitl on her knees in the warmed water facing toward the audience. As she bowed her head, her rich black mane plummeted freely, shrouding her face and breasts. The High Priest softly wrapped his hand around her throat and kissed her nape.

Raising her head, she shook the hair out of her eyes and studied all in attendance. With the aid of the lenses in her fabulous tortoiseshell frames, she could see her family members and most of her important friends. Tears streaming from her eyes, she knew it was especially heartfelt and respectful that everyone had come to be present to witness the beginning of her new life.

Changing their grasps, the Priests seized her hands tightly with both of theirs. That act of preparation by the two men changed the tone of the proceedings. What had been lovely and tender now took on a persona that seemed unpleasant and primitive. The young woman began to look the part of a docile creature that had been captured as prey. Positioning himself behind her, the High Priest stepped out of his own sandals and sat on his knees in the same fashion as Xochitl in the end of the pool. Suddenly without warning, he jerked her shoulders back plunging her head below the surface of the water.

Stricken with panic, she fought kicking frantically. The fourth Priest swiftly stooped to hold her ankles at the opposite end of the pool. The only sound emitted from her mouth was a muffled gag as she choked underwater. Each Priest held determinedly completely eliminating her ability to escape. Aching from the swallowed water, Xochitl realized struggling would only manage to prolong her suffering. It was then she recalled what had been taught in rehearsals; with honor she had been chosen, with honor her destiny would be met. Surrendering to her fatality, the young woman allowed her lungs to fill with water. In her final thoughts, she imagined the beginning of her new life.

Once her body ceased to move, it was left to bobble aimlessly in the pool. The High Priest stood erect, looked to the sky, held his arms high in the air, and began speaking. By this time, Toltecatl could no longer muster the will to watch or listen. Demonstrating no dignity for the remains, the High Priest reached into the water, grabbed the hair at the back of her head, and lifted her body upright. Her shoulders and limbs hung flaccidly. Though her glasses were slightly askew, those in close proximity could see her pupils were fixed, dilated, and lifeless. This act indicated that the soul of Xochitl had gone from this earth to reside with the Gods. The ceremony was considered complete.

When the drums and musical instruments resumed play, citizens began leaving the ceremonial plaza. A Priest tugged at the necklace and armlets snapping each of the bands harshly when removed. They would be placed in storage until the next ceremony. The High Priest then pushed the once beautiful body down the steps on the back side of the altar. Ingloriously, the nude remains of Xochitl were dragged over the remaining steps and dropped from a ledge a few feet away. Her body fell into a deep pit to be consumed by ravenous zoo animals in wait. Within minutes there would be little left.

It had been the largest number of people to ever attend the eighth and final day of the Festival of Xilonen in the outdoor temple of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan. As is the custom of most major festivals, the ceremony had been broadcast via television and radio throughout the nation of MayaAzteca.

Hers had been a glorious death. The sacrifice of Xochitl would honor her family, place her in the highest esteem by all citizens of MayaAzteca, and assure its peoples of favorable weather for growing conditions until the next year. Paintings, photographs, and various likenesses of Xochitl would be placed in prominent places to demonstrate her immortality. Eternally young, she would never suffer the ravages of old age, be forced to bear children, or worry about the trials and tribulations of life and family.

Within a short while, Toltecatl was the only person left at the altar. Unable to leave the site where his love had spent her final minutes, he slowly climbed the steps to reclaim the dress and sandals. He began to cry when he saw a trail of blood where her body had been dragged post mortem. Shedding his own stream of tears, he saw the gleam of an object on one of the steps on the far side of the altar. It was Xochitl’s fabulous tortoiseshell frames! Upon closer scrutiny, they appeared to be undamaged. The beguiling glasses, white dress, and corral-colored sandals were all that remained of her concise and wonderful life. He would cherish them forever.