The Return of the God Quetzal

by Michael Mclaughlin

Over the small Mexican village craggy mountains loomed, and the arroyos filled with a misty white fog. A pale, lopsided moon hung in the indigo sky of early afternoon.

Short and slender Francisco smiled and knew it was a great day for a balloon seller. It always was on the feast day of San Felipe de Paloma. Francisco and his wife Mirasol hurried to finish filling the last of the helium balloons; he still had to change into his Aztec dancing costume. He looked down and smiled at his young son, Jose, who would dance for the first time.

Mirasol smiled too, with a mother’s joy at little Jose in his precioso Aztec warrior suit. He wore a jaguar head helmet and his small face came out the mouth. The drums sounded in the plaza and the little Aztec warrior slid off the metal bench and began stomping his feet and dancing in a circle.

Mirasol announced, “Today will be a great day for balloons.” She slipped another green and silver limp balloon over the brass nozzle and instantly, like magic, it filled.

“No,” Francisco said with a big smile. “Today will be the greatest day…” He waved his finger in the air and paused dramatically. “…of any balloon seller in Mexico. Ever.” He laughed and quickly tied a loose balloon to a wooden stick and then ran off to dress for the dance.

Little Jose was still dancing. “Sientese. When you father returns you will dance together.” Mirasol looked around at the large crowd and knew that if they sold all the balloons and she saw her son dance, it would be the happiest day of her life. She blessed herself for her good life, her husband, and most of all her little boy.

Francisco returned dressed as the Aztec dancer in a brown leather loincloth, a huge headdress of pheasant feathers that shimmered in the light, and ankle shell pods rattled with every step.

“The balloons are filled. I’ll get the money pouch and water out of the truck.” She handed Francisco a shimmering, colossal bundle of floating balloons.

Francisco heard the drum beat and shouts of the dancers. He called over his son. “Jose, hold the balloons and do not let go.” Then Francisco visualized balloon money floating away into the heavens so he tied the balloons around the boy’s waist. “Jose, stay here until your mother returns.” More drums and Francisco ran to dance in a circle of men.

Dancing, Francisco looked back across to the plaza and saw the huge cluster of balloons sway and slow drift up carrying Jose. But Francisco was not alarmed, for he could only see the beauty of his smiling son and the balloons. When his wife screamed, Francisco came out of his dream and raced to catch his son before he floated away. But it was much too late.

Francisco and Mirasol tried to follow the balloons in their truck, but strong breezes quickly lifted their son up and over the mountain tops into the pale moon sky. When they lost sight of the balloons they cried and then drove home in silence, not believing what had happened.


As twilight faded into darkness, little Jose wondered why his parents did not tell him of the long balloon ride before he danced. But it was fun floating through the clouds. He was warm in his costume and soon fell asleep silently drifting in the moonlight.

Over the mountain and down into a fertile valley was the village of Huichol people. That night the entire village was seated around a roaring fire, arguing in loud voices; the elders had called a meeting about a planned golf course nearby. The elders saw their way of life disappearing and nothing could save them from the grasp of modern Mexico. The old gods had left the hearts and spirits and soon would leave the memory of all the Huichol people.

Then one of the villagers yelled and pointed and out of the stars and moon sky Jose swooped down and suddenly stood before the villagers. The night wind pushed the balloons down into the fire and they exploded. The people fell to the ground in fear.

Jose looked around for his parents and thought he should dance, but there was no drum beat. He decided to dance anyway, stomping his little feet and swinging his arms up and down. Slowly the villagers raised their heads to see the boy dance. A man found a small drum and began beating it. Jose responded with more dancing, jumping and yelping in his squeaky voice. Then the villagers joined in and for an hour all danced in the fire light until little Jose collapsed in exhaustion. Instantly the drumming stopped and in the infinite silence, only the crackling of fire could be heard.

Jose was tired, hungry and confused. He got up, walked to the chief elder, took the man’s hand and asked, “Que tal?” But the old chief was deaf and still out of breath from dancing and he heard Quetzal. The elder looked deep into the little boy’s eyes and began to mumble in the lost words of his father’s father’s father and then announced the boy-god Quetzal – the god of wind – was among them. The people stood and shouted. A new world had begun for them.

In the morning, wherever Jose walked, his path was strewn with flower petals, the flower girls all about the age of Jose – Huichol mothers thought way ahead in matters of the gods. Jose was brought offerings of food and drink and the boy-god was a thankful god and ate everything offered to him.


Francisco contacted the police and for days the parents drove around the mountain roads looking for their son. A picture was sent out to all villages in the state. Mirasol spent all day in church crying and praying and lighting candles to the Virgin Mary.

Three weeks later Mirasol stopped going to church and Francisco vowed never to dance again. They had no joy left for life.

Weeks after that, when the bulletin and picture reached the desk of Police Chief Eduardo Modelo, he instantly he knew the strange news from the Huichol village of a boy-god coming down from the sky and the missing globo muchacho were one in the same. That afternoon he drove out to talk with the elders. He would just explain the whole matter and it would be settled. But the elders would have none of the Police Chief’s explanations.

“How can this be a boy-god of the Huichol people? He is dressed as an Aztec warrior.”

One of the elders in a calm voice said, “Are we to question the dress of gods?”

“The boy doesn’t speak your language. He speaks Spanish. He is Mexican.”

The elders responded, “His devoted people understand, no matter the language.”

When police chief got back to the station he reluctantly called the state police who told him to call the federal government who told him it was his to work out. He knew he had to find a solution fast or else he would be end up as a security guard for an armored car service standing around all day with a shotgun while others stacked bills in an ATM machine.

Police chief Modelo called Jose’s father with the news.

“You found my son?” Francisco yelled to his wife in the kitchen and she came running, wiping her hands on her dress, crying, her eyes wild and happy.

“I will come now to get my son. Where is he?”

Then Police Chief Modelo had to explain the whole story and Francisco screamed, “This is crazy! I will get a gun and take him back!”

Police Chief Modelo pleaded, “Do not to go to the village. Many people could be hurt. There is a better way.” Before Modelo hung up he promised to talk sense into the elders. It would be worked out – the Mexican way.

The next day Police Chief Modelo returned to the village and it was crowded with people bringing flowers, food and offerings to the boy-god. That’s when Chief Modelo knew the money in his pocket was not going to be enough. So much for the Mexican way.

Again Chief Modelo talked to the elders.

“A god would not use balloons to float in from the sky.”

“How do we know the way gods travel?”

The elders finally pronounced any attempts to steal the boy would be met with violence and bloodshed. The boy-god would leave when he wanted to.

Silently Modelo drove back to the police station and again called Jose’s parents to explain the situation, but he was very unlucky that Jose’s mother answered the phone. The phone lines sizzled as Jose’s mother cursed nonstop and screamed insults only a Mexican mother could dare say to a Mexican man. Police Chief Modelo remained calm and remembered his training.

Mirasol only stopped when Francisco wrestled the phone away from her. The two men talked some more and Mirasol got back on the phone and in a very calm voice apologized to the Police Chief. He was quick, not to take offense. He was a father with five children. He understood her feelings. Police Chief Modelo also knew talking was over with Jose’s mother. She would kill him if her son was harmed.

Defeated, he hung up and knew Francisco would now call the newspapers, the church, television stations and all that pressure would easily break the back of a simple, police chief. In the morning, standing under a hot shower, he practiced all the standard explanations he knew would not save him. He wore his best uniform to work and hoped he would have some dignity in a clean uniform when he appeared on television. – Police Chief resigns in disgrace.

But as he walked into his office in the morning he had a plan to get the boy back. It might cost a life or two, maybe three, but it was his only hope. He called Jose’s parents with the plan.

It took 5472 balloons, three tanks of helium and five hours to get Francisco airborne in his Aztec costume. Held by ropes, he was guided upwind from the village and let float, hopefully, over the village.

If the plan failed Police Chief Modelo knew Marisol would go in and take her son back one way or the other. For the poor Huichol villagers, this angry Mexican mother would be the second coming of Cortez.

Francisco descended into the village, popping balloons with his spear, and riding the wind currents down. Quickly the village was called and in minutes people surrounded another god.

He was a god of few words. “Bring Quetzal!” He thumped his chest and threw his arms up.

When Jose saw his father he ran to him and jumped into his arms. Francisco could tell the boy had gained weight. He then released the extra weights around his waist and the huge balloon floated silently up. The villagers danced, waved, cried and threw flowers as their gods disappeared up into the invisible heavens.

As the two floated away, Jose looked up to his father and said, “I want to be a god, when I grow up.”

The End