The charcoal maker and Death


This story was told by Rafael Vigil (1852 - 1940) to his grandson Cleofes Vigil (1917 - 1992). Cleofes Vigil was raised by his grandparents Rafael and Leonore Vigil in San Cristobal. It is retold here by Ronald Vigil and translated into Spanish here.

There was a poor man who had a wife and a grand number of children. This man supported his family making charcoal, which was his main source of income. He lived in a humble house at the foot of a mountain. He also had a burro that he took with him every morning to the mountain to make charcoal. He would then take the charcoal to the city to sell, so he could buy food and other provisions for his family.

His method of making charcoal was to cut wood and light a fire under the wood. When the wood was red hot, he threw water on the burning wood, thereby cooling the fire and producing charcoal.

It was very difficult to sell charcoal. The people in the city did not buy this particular kind of charcoal. He could not help his family with food and daily needs. His last sale was paid with four loaves of bread. He did not eat, so his family could have the bread. Still, he continued to make charcoal every day.

His wife was worried and told him, "Do not go to make charcoal. Look, there are no sales."

But he said if he accumulated lots of charcoal, he would have it when the selling and buying became stable. Then he would sell it, and he could buy food for his family to last a longer of time.

Well, it took him many days making charcoal and he did not eat. One morning as he was going up the mountain, he passed by a chicken coop. He heard the rooster crowing. He was weak with hunger.

He thought, "I'll steal the chicken." When he arrived at the mountain, he peeled the chicken and lit some wood on fire. When the coals became red hot, he started to cook the chicken. As he was turning the chicken, a young man appeared, a very handsome young man. He said, "Good morning to you. "Are you making charcoal?"

"Yes, that is my job."

The young man noticed that the charcoal maker was turning the chicken, which looked tasty. "Will you invite me to eat chicken?"

The charcoal maker responded, "I don't know if I can invite you. Tell me who you are."

"I am Jesus Christ."

"Well, man" the charcoal maker said, "I cannot invite you. Being that you are Jesus Christ, you have the power to give equally toward mankind. Here I am one of the poorest of men. The truth is you discriminate [among] people. What you should do is go away from my presence very quickly."

The young Jesus Christ left, and the charcoal maker continued to turn his chicken.

Just then a beautiful women came by and she greeted him with, "Good morning to you."

"Good morning to you, too."

"It looks like to me that you are a charcoal maker."

"Yes, that is my job."

She also saw that he was turning a chicken, which looked like it was almost ready to eat. "Will you invite me to eat chicken?"

"I do not know. You are beautiful, but first tell me who you are."

She told him, "I am the Virgin Mary, mother of the Messiah."

He then said, "No madam, I cannot invite you. Being that you are the mother of the Messiah, you have the power to tell your son he should not have made so many poor people in this world. I am going to tell you the truth. I stole this chicken because it has been many days since I have eaten. I gave the little food I had to my wife and children. The sale of charcoal is slow, and I have not sold enough to compensate. I find myself falling behind and very hungry. That is why I cannot invite you. You have the power to execute justice. You have some people in poverty and some in riches. I am one of those poor people who suffer much. What you should do is go away quickly."

Well, then, the Virgin Mary left.

Just then, the chicken was well done. Without haste, an ugly, skinny old women came. "Good morning to you, my good charcoal maker. I see you are making charcoal."

"Yes, madam, making charcoal is my job."

This women saw that he had a chicken that was well done. "Will you invite me to eat?"

"Tell me who you are."

"I am Death," she replied.

"Well! Come on," The charcoal maker said. "You I will invite, not because you are skinny. Because you do not know what discrimination is. You are a women of much equality. You treat everyone the same, no exceptions."

He took the chicken and cut it in half and they did eat. When they finished eating, the charcoal maker continued to talk. He told this woman about how difficult it was to sell charcoal and the epidemic of poverty. She listened with much patience and then said, "Look here man; I think I can help you. Why don't you ask me for something worthy? I understand your problems, and this job of making charcoal is not a good job to make a living. If you ask me for something worthy, I will give it to you. You can be a carpenter, a blacksmith, a sculptor, anything you decide. I will help you find a better occupation."

She insisted he ask for a reward. It was impossible to convince him. The woman Death said, "Well! Now that you do not want to ask, I am going to offer a good occupation. Why don't you become a doctor?"

"No! Madam, what can I do as a doctor? I do not know anything about medicine or much less illnesses. I will stay here making my charcoal."

"Well look, pay close attention to what I am going to say. You know that I am Death, and I have the power to take anyone I wish and no one can stop me. I can heal or make ill, but I'd much rather take them, that is my task. If you become a doctor I will help you, but remember we have to make a trade, an agreement. If medicine is suitable to you, you can go to the trash and find jars, weeds, roots and bottle them. These will be your medicines. Like I said before, I will help you. You will go where people are sick, and you will heal them. I guarantee you will make a good living. You will prosper."

The charcoal maker thought, then answered. "Alright, I will accept your proposal. Now tell me about your agreement. What do we have to do?"

Well, she told him to pay attention carefully and to remember everything that she was telling him. "As you enter the house of a sick person you will see me, but we cannot talk because I do not talk when I am working. If you see me at the foot of the bed, you heal the patient with your medicine. If you see me at the head of the bed, you tell them there is no cure and he will die. Remember this well; this is our agreement. As you see me at the head of the sick person, you are not to touch him because this patient I will take. I do not want you to disturb him in any way."

Well, he agreed to this and guaranteed that he would obey.

The charcoal maker went to look for bottles and to boil plants and roots for use as medicine. When he had prepared them, he put them inside his sack and went to the city. He went to the house of an old woman who lived in the suburbs and he asked her, "What is new?'

She answered, "There is a great illness going around, and many people have died. Looks as if there is no cure for this illness."

The doctor tells her, "Go and spread the news that a doctor has come that understands and guarantees many people can be healed.

Quickly, the old woman went out to tell about the good news. Soon after that he started to heal people. Naturally, the first thing he did was to look to see where Death was standing. If he saw her at the foot of the bed, he would take his medicine out, and the patient would be healed. If he saw her at the head of the bed, he would tell them there is no cure, and the patient would die. He became a famous doctor and he progressed. He had servants, a good house that he bought for his wife and family. He had everything necessary to live a good life. His family did not lack for anything. They were very happy because they were comfortable.

It happened that the king of the country became ill. Naturally, this King was very rich. Quickly the doctor was sent for. He came to the King's house with his medicine. When he entered the room, he saw Death at the head of the bed.

He told the King's men there was no remedy; he will die. The King's people started to beg him. He was such a good doctor that he had to do something for the King. Everyone in the country knew he was a good doctor and he could heal the King. The charcoal maker said, "It is impossible; he will die."

The people insisted they would pay him with horses, property, farm animals, servants and ranches. They even promised him half of the King's kingdom.

Well, greed built up inside of him, and he didn't remember his difficult days as a charcoal maker. He started to think about the power that he would have if the King were healed. He told them, "Fine, if you give me what I need to heal the king and you all go out of the room, I can do it with diligence. But remember, I do not guarantee anything.

The King's men knew if the doctor would place his hands on the King, he would be healed. The doctor asked for a cradle to be hung in front of the bed where the King was in agony.

When all the king's men left, he closed the door. He took Death and placed her at the foot of the bed. She got up and walked to the head of the bed. He did the same thing again. He placed Death at the foot of the bed. Death insisted and went to the head of the bed. So the charcoal maker placed her in the cradle and turned her around and around until the rope was twisted. He quickly let go, so it would unwind very fast. He wanted to make Death dizzy, so she would stay at the foot of the bed. He worked hard at doing this until he finally stopped, and Death stayed at the foot of the bed. Quickly he pulled out his medicines and cured the King. In good time the King was well.

Death disappeared for some time, and he figured he had succeeded; he was important. When he started to get paid, he had lawyers, riches and servants used for all the different properties that he had gained, not only from the King's payment but also from other patients. He was a rich and famous man.

When he was going home, he was thinking about his power and riches.

On the road where he was traveling Death came and greeted him, "Good day to you, Good day, charcoal maker. Do you know me?"

"Ya," he said, "but I'm not sure. It is possible that I have seen you at one time. I'm not sure."

Death said, "Don't you remember when you invited me to eat cooked chicken when you were making charcoal and you told me about your sad adventures of miserable poverty and you couldn't make a living? I wanted to help, so you could make a favorable living with an agreement that you were not to break. I only wanted you to make a good living, but you became preoccupied with riches and broke our agreement. I also wanted to take the King. You fought me and you thought you were rich and powerful, but now I will show you that you won't be able to keep anything that you have obtained. I will now take you in the King's place."