The Mayans thought the cenotes were portals to the realm of the dead, Xibalba, but his family called it by another name, Y’ha-nthlei, and the cenote was Yliah’he. It had no meaning in Mayan, this was an older language, the elders had told him. A language from before the Conquest, before the great pyramids rose upon the limestone bedrock of Yucatán. Much of the knowledge had been lost through the years, but some true names and words remained. Yliah’he.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Legacy of Salt” in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 324
The Mythos, from its small hard core of writings by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, has been spun out by many writers in many ways. That is the great gift of it: being able to play with the ideas, to have readers trace the shape of old stories and old ideas, newly embodied: refreshed, reincarnated, yet recognizable.
Scene: Yucatán, the 1960s. An old family, an old house; echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, the shadows a little darker in the harsh tropical sunlight. The family name is Marin rather than Marsh; there is no Devil’s Reef, but there is the cenote Yliah’he.
A Mexican Innsmouth, a new corner of Lovecraft country.
The story itself is a romance, almost a telenovela; we know this story even if we haven’t read it before. Will they/won’t they? There are all the usual and unusual obstructions: a fiance back in Mexico City, the call of the modern world, the titillating hint of incest. Yet Silvia Moreno-Garcia carries us through admirably. She knows these waters, the details that make the setting pop, the buttons to push to keep the reader wondering, until the very end, which way it will go.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote “Legacy of Salt” around the time she was reading a lot of philosophy of biology materials and also a Darwin biography as part of her Master’s degree studies. “Some of the scientific issues I was exploring collided with this story. I have always found ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ to be fascinating since it seems to dip its toes into the notion of repulsion/attraction. Is it such a bad thing to swim eternally in underwater palaces? I kind of like the idea. The Yucatán peninsula is definitely nothing like New England but the numerous markers for archaeological sites somewhat reminded me of the nation of the past creeping upon the present, which occurs in some of Lovecraft’s fiction.”
—The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 312
Unlike “Ahuizotl” (2011) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas or “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader, there is very little of horror in this story, and that which remains is mixed with fascination. The protagonist, Eduardo Marin, has tragedy in his life—father dead in a car crash, a mother that abandoned him to start a new family—but there is nothing as traumatic to the family as a whole as the raid on Innsmouth which overshadows and informs “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys.
Except in the sense that the Marins are survivors; remnants of some family line that dates back before the Conquest of Mexico. There are hints throughout the story, references to the Mayan rain-god Chaac, in the shape of a frog, but nothing specific. Hints, remnants, just enough to whet the imagination. The lack of knowledge, loss of knowledge, is the great sub-theme of this story. The biological and material “legacy of salt” is undeniable, but there is a loss of cultural knowledge keenly felt…and that too is a legacy of the Conquest.
“Legacy of Salt” was published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016), and has not yet been reprinted. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been an editor, writer, and translator. Her Lovecraftian fiction includes “Flash Frame” (2010), “In the House of the Hummingbirds” (2012), “The Sea, Like Broken Glass” (2014), and “In the Details” (2015), and her latest novel is Mexican Gothic (2020).