The House of the Scorpion Part 5, La Vida Nueva Summary
The Lost Boys
The border guards are super impressed by Matt's narrow escape. Matt tells them his name is Matt Ortega (a shout out to his awesome music teacher).
The guards, known as "Keepers," take Matt to a building and get him some clothes and food.
Matt tells them the story Tam Lin came up with: Matt's parents were taken by the Farm Patrol and he turned back to Aztlán since he was scared.
He tells them he wants to go to San Luis.
After figuring out that Matt doesn't have any useful job skills, a Keeper named Raúl decides to send him to a plankton factory in San Luis since that's where he wants to go.
Matt figures that sounds fine – he can escape once he hits San Luis and go find María.
Then, Matt meets the other boys staying with the Keepers. They're playing a video game, which totally confuses Matt. (Remember the thing about keeping Opium a hundred years in the past?)
After Raúl tells the boys to give Matt some space, Matt watches as they go over an evening lesson where Raúl recites things like "Work is freedom. Freedom is work."
Okay, side note: it's helpful here to know that Raúl is acting and speaking in a way that identifies him as a communist. Basically, communists believe that everyone should work hard and share everything. That sounds nice enough, but unfortunately, a lot of communist governments, such as the Soviet Union, turned into dictatorships where people were controlled by the State. Will Aztlán be the same? (By the way, if you want to read more about communism, check out Shmoop's take).
When Raúl leaves, the other boys start to chat to Matt.
A big guy named Chacho has a bad attitude. He tells Matt that the Keepers are going to "work his butt off" tomorrow. It turns out Chacho and a little boy named Fidelito, who gets picked on by the other boys, are headed for San Luis with Matt.
Fidelito says that he's hungry and that you only get fed if you "produce enough work." That certainly doesn't sound promising.
Using some of El Patrón's attention-getting techniques, Matt tells everyone his fake story of crossing the border with his parents.
Chacho reveals that this place is an orphanage and that all the boys have lost their parents, many of them to the Farm Patrol.
Because the boys are orphans, they basically "belong" to the state and are forced to work. Matt knows what that feels like ("belonging" to someone, that is).
A Five-Legged Horse
At the orphanage, Matt floats around to different groups and learns the ropes.
All the orphans call themselves the Lost Boys (Peter Pan, anyone?). The Lost Girls are in a different building. Everyone has it in for the Keepers, though Matt thinks Raúl is nice.
Also, everyone here calls Opium "Dreamland."
Matt helps Fidelito with his work so that he can eat, and Fidelito latches onto Matt.
Chacho, continuing to show Matt the ropes, tells him that everyone gets assigned a job by the Keepers, whether they like it or not.
We also learn that Chacho is secretly working on making a guitar, because his dad used to make them. Chacho insists that his dad is living in the United States and is going to send for him soon. Matt's not so sure.
The day drags on and it's finally time for bed. When Raúl comes in to say goodnight, Fidelito moons him. Raúl just laughs.
Their "bedtime" story is about why individualism is a "five-legged horse." Apparently, individualism causes people to just go in circles. Everyone should pull together and be the same.
Matt pipes up and says that not letting people be individuals is about the same as putting a computer chip in their brain.
Everyone finds this shocking, but Chacho just finds it hysterical.
Raúl is horrified and tells Matt he's an aristocrat. (FYI, aristocrats are bad in communism. See what happened to the royal family of Russia when the communists took over.)
Raúl then peaces out.
Unlike Raúl, the boys all think Matt is hard core. Matt, on the other hand, is really confused about what just happened.
Matt goes to bed and begins to freak out. He knows no one can ever find out he's El Patrón's clone, because it seems like everyone at the orphanage hates "Dreamland."
They call El Patrón a vampire, and the eejits are called "crots" or zombies.
Matt goes to sleep missing Celia and Tam Lin and thinking of María.
The Plankton Factory
Raúl begins the day with an inspirational pep talk.
Matt is put to work making Vitamin B pills and is given a double quota. He ends up not getting much food for breakfast, but Chacho tells the bigger boys to give Matt some more food.
Later that day, Fidelito, Chacho, and Matt head off to San Luis, and they have to make sandals on the trip there.
Matt is beginning to think the Keepers are power-hungry nuts.
Poor Fidelito throws up in the hovercraft on the way to San Luis.
Finally they land. Unfortunately, outside it smells like rotting fish, so Matt throws up, too.
The pilot takes the boys inside and the Keepers at the plankton factory call Matt the "aristocrat." They must have already heard about him. Word travels fast.
The boys then have to go clean the vomit out of the hovercraft. Not a great start. When that's done, they go talk to the head Keeper, Carlos.
Carlos rambles on about how great plankton is. It grows in the sea, and the plant manufactures it to be turned into food for humans. Sounds... tasty.
Matt asks where San Luis is, but Carlos tells him to shut up. Apparently meanness isn't confined to Opium.
The plant is in the middle of nowhere and is surrounded by salt hills leftover from the plankton manufacturing process.
Time for lunch. They eat plankton (big surprise) and Matt decides that it's gross.
In the distance, Matt spies the Gulf of California. He learns that the Gulf is where Opium gets its water from.
After lunch, Chacho, Fidelito, and Matt are put to work tending brine shrimp tanks.
The boys chat and Fidelito explains how he got there.
He used to live in the Yucatan peninsula with his grandmother, he tells them, but a hurricane destroyed their home. So the two were sent to a refugee camp, where they were basically prisoners of the state.
In an effort to escape, Fidelito and his grandma tried to cross the border. Sadly, his grandma didn't make it and Fidelito was picked up by the Keepers.
Chacho explains that most of Aztlán is okay, but the Keepers are crazy, and if you end up with the state in charge of you, you're pretty much sunk.
Carlos comes up and scolds the boys for not working. Matt foolishly talks back, and they all lose dinner privileges.
Matt apologizes, but Fidelito and Chacho don't mind: they're sticking with him because he's cool.
Washing a Dusty Mind
Matt asks why everyone calls him the aristocrat.
Chacho says it's because of how he talks, his manners, and how he seems to be thinking all the time.
Matt gets worried because he's always copied El Patrón, who was over one hundred years behind the times.
At dinner, Chacho stares down a kid, and gets some of his food for Fidelito.
Before bed, another Keeper named Jorge gives everyone an inspirational lesson.
Of course Matt thinks the lessons are a load of crap, but he keeps his mouth shut this time. Smart move.
Poor Matt gets called on to answer a question, but he gets it wrong.
The boys then start something called "self-criticism," which is where everyone goes around and confesses to a wrongdoing.
A kid with bad acne named Ton-Ton goes first, and he says he thought about stealing a pancake.
Ton-Ton then gets to name his own punishment: he decides he should have to recite some principles.
Matt finds the whole thing extremely bizarre, but it's worth noting that actually, this self-criticism thing isn't just fiction. This was something communists in the Soviet Union and China actually did at their meetings. Crazy, we know. Check out this link for some information.
Now it's Matt's turn. He says he hasn't done anything wrong. Fidelito, however, confesses to throwing up in the hovercraft.
When Matt tries to stand up for him, Jorge gets everyone to turn on Matt. All the boys except Chacho and Fidelito accuse Matt of stupid things.
Even though he's still got some allies, Matt is really upset because he wanted to be accepted by boys his age.
But then Matt remembers the people who care about him: Celia, Tam Lin, and María, And he remembers El Patrón, who gave him a will to live.
Matt decides he can triumph over his bad situation.
When the Whales Lost Their Legs
Matt starts getting used to his new existence at the plankton factory. He and the other two boys still work at the shrimp tanks all day.
One day, Chacho and Matt go investigate something in the distance and discover a huge pit filled with giant bones.
Chacho notices a human skull in the pit, too. This does not sound good. The boys decide to leave before someone falls in.
Fidelito tells the older boys that the bones are whale bones.
Matt also starts getting used to having all the boys insult him every night during "self-criticism."
One night, though, Jorge turns on Ton-Ton after Matt refuses to confess anything. He accuses Ton-Ton of stealing and then beats him up as punishment.
Matt knows Jorge is doing this to intimidate him. After all, the beating is so bad that Ton-Ton has to be taken to the infirmary when Jorge is done. But Matt still refuses to confess to doing something wrong.
So then Jorge threatens to beat Matt.
Matt talks back, and Fidelito finally jumps in and tells about stuff Matt did (or did he?).
Finally, Matt decides to confess to things he never did, such as dropping soap and throwing away porridge. Jorge takes it upon himself to beat Matt for his assorted "crimes."
When Jorge leaves, all the boys surround Matt and call him a hero for standing up to Jorge.
An older boy named Flaco says Jorge really crossed the line and will get into trouble.
Matt is psyched that the other boys like and accept him. But he did just get totally pummeled, so he's then taken to the infirmary and given something to knock him out.
The next day, Matt is recovering in the infirmary with Ton-Ton.
Ton-Ton's friend Luna comes to visit. Luna is actually training to be a Keeper. He says that everyone eventually trains to be a Keeper.
Matt doesn't understand this, because there aren't enough Keeper positions for the hundreds of boys.
Poor Ton-Ton still can't figure out why Jorge beat him, so Matt distracts him by asking what the Keeper's quarters are like. Ton-Ton cleans these rooms so he gets to see inside.
Apparently, they are super swanky.
Matt learns from Ton-Ton that the Keepers get high every night.
This is great news for Matt since it gives him better odds at escaping at night, when the Keepers are out of commission.
Ton-Ton also grew up in San Luis and tells Matt all about it.
Matt really wants to tell Ton-Ton to get a clue and stop being loyal to the Keepers, but he holds his tongue.
He finally gets out of bed and makes an unfortunate discovery: he has super bad acne. Luna says the plankton causes it for some reason.
The next day, Jorge makes Ton-Ton and Matt go back to work. Matt plans his escape and tries to figure out how Chacho and Fidelito can come with him.
Matt now needs more information: he arranges for Chacho, Fidelito, and him to intercept, or stop, Ton-Ton on his way in from work. He wants to get more news from Ton-Ton to help with his escape plans.
Suspicious at first, Ton-Ton is assured by Matt that they want to be friends with him.
And now we get Ton-Ton's backstory.
His parents both disappeared over the border. Ton-Ton tried to run, too, and was nearly killed by the Farm Patrol, but Jorge rescued him. He's got a grandmother in San Luis, but Jorge convinced him to stay at the orphanage to become a Keeper.
After he tells this story, the boys head back to the compound. Ton-Ton lets Fidelito ride with him in the shrimp harvester that he drives, but Matt and Chacho have to walk.
Matt tells Chacho about Celia, explaining that she's his mother. Mentioning Celia makes Matt desperately homesick and he nearly cries.
Chacho understands and leaves Matt alone, giving him time to pull himself together.
Jorge criticizes Matt yet again that night, and then he turns on Fidelito. Matt tries to step in on Fidelito's behalf, but Jorge won't let up and goes to beat Fidelito.
So Matt throws himself on Jorge and Chacho joins in. Soon all the boys are surrounding them and shouting.
Matt stops himself and then yanks Chacho off of Jorge.
Jorge scrambles outside and comes back with all twenty Keepers. This can't be good.
The boys yell that Jorge nearly killed Fidelito, which makes Carlos pause, but Jorge says they're lying.
The Keepers try to leave, but Flaco gets everyone to surround the doors and trap them.
There are two hundred boys and the Keepers are nervous. They're out-numbered ten-to-one.
Jorge then spills the beans about Matt: he saw Matt's "Property of the Alacrán Estate" tattoo on his foot when he was in the infirmary.
Everyone is horrified – even more so when Jorge accuses Matt of being an eejit.
Flaco, checking Matt's foot, confirms Jorge's story, but Ton-Ton pipes up and says that Matt isn't a bad person and that anyone could get trapped in Dreamland.
Ton-Ton then tells all the boys that their parents are crots, or zombies, too, and they were just unlucky. Jorge tells Ton-Ton to shut up.
The Keepers then haul Chacho and Matt out, lock them in a dark closet, and tape their mouths shut.
At dawn, some Keepers, led by Jorge, come to get Chacho and Matt.
They take the two boys out to the boneyard (the giant pit filled with whale bones). Their hands and feet are bound with tape. The Keepers throw the boys into the pit and leave them there.
Frantic, Matt and Chacho get to work on trying to use the bones to cut their hands and feet free, but the bones keep shifting and they have to be careful not to sink further into the pit.
As if the situation weren't bad enough, Chacho discovers that there are bats living in the pit and they start crawling on Matt and Chacho. This pretty much sounds like your basic worst nightmare.
After panicking because of the bats, Chaco is calmed by Matt. Matt refuses to believe that he's going to die in a pit like this.
Finally Chacho and Matt get their hands free. Both of them are super thirsty.
When he tells Chaco about living in Opium with his parents, Celia and Tam Lin, Matt assures Chacho that not everyone there is an eejit, but that everyone is definitely a prisoner.
Chacho is hopeful that his father is a prisoner – not an eejit.
Then a thunderstorm rolls in, giving the boys a chance to get a drink of rainwater.
Unfortunately, the storm totally freaks out the bats and they start crawling all over Chacho and Matt, looking for warmth.
Matt frees his feet and very slowly makes his way out of the pit.
Chacho, however, is still in the pit and has passed out from exhaustion.
The Shrimp Harvester
Matt is freezing and exhausted. He keeps yelling to Chacho, but Chacho doesn't answer. What should he do?
Then, thankfully, Ton-Ton and Fidelito drive up in the shrimp harvester. Matt is beyond relieved to see them.
Ton-Ton uses the harvester to get Chacho out of the pit.
When Chaco wakes up, Ton-Ton gives him and Matt strawberry soda to drink. The "soda" sounds an awful lot like Gatorade from the way Ton-Ton describes it.
Ton-Ton says all four of them are going to make a run for it to San Luis.
Apparently, there was an uprising at the compound and the boys have control. Ton-Ton drugged the Keepers and the boys all barricaded them in their rooms.
Now Flaco's in charge, and he's going to wait until the supply hovercraft arrives. Then he'll tell people in charge what happened.
But Ton-Ton says he doesn't trust headquarters and thinks it's best to run while they can, so they all ride in the shrimp harvester to San Luis.
Unfortunately, the harvester is solar powered, and it gets dark when they are still three miles outside of San Luis.
Ton-Ton stays with Chacho, who can't walk, while Matt and Fidelito head towards San Luis to find help.
El Día de los Muertos
Wondering what this title refers to? Well, in English it means the "Day of the Dead," and it's a holiday that's celebrated in Mexico, and in Mexican-American communities in the United States. You can read more about it here.
Fidelito pesters Matt with questions the entire way to San Luis.
The boys get closer to the Colorado River, which is severely polluted. A tentacle creeps out of the river. Apparently there are mutant creatures living in it. Plus it smells.
Fidelito is scared. Hey, we would be, too.
Poor Matt has an asthma attack from all that pollution and Fidelito panics and runs for help.
Finally someone arrives with an inhaler. It's an elderly man and woman. The woman calls the man "Guapo," or handsome. Her name is Consuela.
Fidelito did an awesome job getting help. The elderly pair have already sent an ambulance for Chacho and Ton-Ton. Now the two take Matt and Fidelito into the town, where they head towards the cemetery.
There's a party going on there, they explain – it's the Day of the Dead.
Matt has never heard of it. Celia celebrated every holiday, it seems, but this one.
He catches a whiff of something that reminds him strongly of Felicia. It turns out to be whisky.
Understandably, Matt gets desperately homesick at the party.
Consuela and Guapo say they'll take the boys to the convent of Santa Clara hospital to see Chacho. Coincidence alert! Chacho has been taken to the convent where María lives.
She tells them they'll have to wear Halloween masks to disguise themselves in case there are Keepers around.
Matt doesn't like wearing a mask at all.
The Castle on the Hill
Matt, Fidelito, and Guapo pile into a small hover car for the ride to the hospital.
Dazed by all the people and the holographic ads everywhere, he's then totally shocked when he sees someone dressed up in an El Patrón costume. What's going on here?
They arrive at the convent, and Matt's nervous about seeing María.
He and Fidelito wander around until a nurse spots them and takes them to Chacho. When they get to the room, they discover two Keepers there trying to take Chacho and Ton-Ton away.
One of the nurses, Sister Inéz, protests, but the Keepers just brush her off. The Keepers are Jorge and Carlos, who get into a fight with Matt as soon as they see him. The nuns are horrified.
Finally a woman arrives and yells at everyone to stop.
Her name is Dona Esperanza – María's mom.
Esperanza tells everyone to shut up and asks Ton-Ton to explain the situation.
Jorge, the jerk, denies everything.
And then Esperanza asks him about the drugs at the compound. Turns out the Keepers are smuggling drugs into Aztlán. So Esperanza has Jorge and Carlos hauled out for drug tests.
After they leave, she tells everyone she's glad: the authorities have been trying to get proof of the Keeper's drug trafficking activities for ages and never could manage it.
Just then, María bursts in and flings herself at Matt with glee.
A few days have gone by, and Matt is recovering in the hospital along with Chacho, who isn't doing so great. María visits Matt every day.
Esperanza comes to visit with María one day, and she tells Matt that something is wrong in Opium.
No one has heard a peep from anyone in Opium since the day El Patrón died. Uh oh.
María is worried about her father and Emilia, so she starts to cry. But Esperanza tells her to suck it up. She's not exactly the caring mother type.
We find out that Opium has been in lockdown for three months.
Esperanza then tells Matt her plan. She wants Matt to go back into Opium and use his El Patrón DNA to override the security system and get it to allow a hovercraft to land there.
Of course, Esperanza admits, it's a gamble: Mr. Alacrán could have changed the security codes after El Patrón's death.
Worried about his friends in Opium, Matt readily agrees to the plan, even though he runs the risk of getting blown up.
Esperanza then tells Matt some good news. According to the law, he's now the "real" El Patrón, since the other one is dead.
This means that Matt is the new leader of Opium and he's a human under the law now. Sweet.
Esperanza says she'll back Matt ruling Opium, but only if he promises to dismantle it.
Matt thinks Esperanza is kind of ruthless and cares more about politics than her kid, but he, too, wants Opium destroyed, so he agrees to her plans.
Now we jump forward in time, and Matt is flying to Opium with some soldiers.
He successfully gets past the security and the hovercraft lands without a problem. The pilot offers Matt a gun, but Matt refuses.
He goes out alone and there is no one around, so he heads for the house, where he hears the piano playing.
It's not Felicia though – it's Mr. Ortega.
When Matt goes to greet his old teacher, Mr. Ortega flees in terror. Matt guesses everyone thought he was dead.
He starts to play the piano, and a bit later, Celia comes in and hugs him and cries.
Matt asks about Tam Lin and Celia tells Matt to come with her.
They go to the kitchen and sit down at a table with Daft Donald, who is mute, and Mr. Ortega, who is deaf.
The two men are communicating through laptops. They type out conversations on the screen.
Celia tells Matt they have a long story to tell him. We bet.
The House of Eternity
Celia, Daft Donald, and Mr. Ortega all tell the story of what happened the night Matt left.
That night, Tam Lin and everyone else were called to El Patrón's wake. Celia was in the stables because she was pretending to be an eejit, and Mr. Ortega was in his room because everyone forgot to come get him.
El Patrón's funeral was over-the-top. He was in a gold coffin that even six bodyguards had trouble lifting.
Daft Donald says that there was a giant picture of a young El Patrón on the coffin lid. The picture looked just like Matt. A choir of eejit children sang a song as the coffin was carried in.
After the funeral service, the eejits and the Farm Patrol were sent away, and the wake started. At the wake, everyone talked about how they hated El Patrón and are glad he finally died.
Tam Lin then brought in some special wine, meant for El Patrón's 150th birthday.
Mr. Alacrán said they should all drink to El Patrón's death. Tam Lin went up to Daft Donald and told him not to drink the wine – he had a bad feeling about it.
Everyone took a sip of the wine, and then everyone in the room fell to the ground.
They were all dead.
The wine was poisoned. El Patrón had a really sick sense of humor. Or something.
When he hears this story, Matt is completely horrified (as are we). He can't believe Tam Lin is gone.
Celia explains that Tam Lin wanted to atone for his past and he did what he had to do to ensure that no other Alacráns would take over Opium. Tam Lin wanted to use this as a chance to free the eejits.
Daft Donald explains that he laid out the bodies, crying the entire time.
He then blew up the entrance to where the funeral was happening and sealed it off, creating a tomb.
Furious with Tam Lin for dying, Matt runs out to the stables and gets a horse from Rosa.
As he rides out, he watches the eejits, still working the fields.
Matt is totally drained and he doesn't know what to do without Tam Lin, so he goes to the Oasis to find the old note Tam Lin left him years ago.
Matt decides that he'll do what he can to fix Opium and free the eejits, and he decides to invite his new friends, Chacho, Ton-Ton, and Fidelito to live with him.
As the sun sets, Matt notices a strange spot in the side of a cliff. It's a door.
Matt opens it and goes inside with a flashlight. It's part of the underground passages that make up El Patrón's tomb.
There's gold on the floor and statues along the walls. Matt backs out, feeling ill, and still angry at Tam Lin.
He spends the night out at the Oasis, pondering his future.
He makes plans for breaking up the Opium empire and hears Tam Lin's voice in his mind telling him that he can do it. Matt agrees.