Chapter 55

All of my water is gone. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking through these hot and rocky hills. I’m beginning to feel panic deep inside my chest. There is no civilization anywhere. No planes have gone overhead. No proof man even exists on this planet. I feel like I could be the last person on earth—the only person. No map, no guide. This trail is taking me eastward, I think. The sun is right above me, so I’m not really sure.

The sweat on my shirt dries almost as fast as I make it. I’m losing water fast. I try to breathe through my nose to save what little moisture I have in my mouth.

Rattle snakes don’t seem so scary when you’re dying of thirst. I go over to a well used side trail and begin to follow it. I wonder who made it? Animals? Humans? It leads down a valley, then slants upwards over a hill. Lots of hills around here. Where am I?

 

 

 

The sun is now a bit lower in the sky now, so I keep the sun on my left side to keep my northward progress. Or is it the right side? No left. Yeah, left. I gotta remember that. I’m really glad I have this dorky hat, or I’d be toast by now, on top of the redness I developed on the water yesterday. These hats look like hell, but they are great for keeping the sun off of you. Those stupid border guards actually did me a favor. I should send them a thank-you note when I get home.

I’m getting very tired. I need to find some place to rest and get out of the sun for a bit. Maybe I should travel at night. But then how do I navigate at night? I have no idea what stars to walk toward, and they move across the horizon too, just like the sun and moon. I have to travel in the daytime or I’ll get even more lost.

There is a large bunch of trees up ahead and it looks like there may be just enough shade for a nice place to rest.

As I get closer, I see litter scattered about. There are jeans, bags, empty bottles of water.  When I get under the trees I see four large burlap and canvas bags, partially buried in the sand.  They remind me of the drug backpacks I was forced to carry through the tunnel. One of the bags is open.  I look inside and see two huge plastic bottles of water, but when I pick them up, they’re empty.  I open another burlap bag and two of the plastic water jugs are empty. I check inside a canvas bag and it has two one gallon water jugs that are about a third full. Yes! I pull one out and open it up and smell it. Nothing. Great!

I take a few sips and a cool waterfall slides down my throat. It had been buried beneath cool dirt in the shade. I take a breath, remove my hat, and splash some water on my head. Soothing wetness washes over me. Somebody put some water out here, or left some behind. Why would anyone leave water behind in a desert? Wouldn’t they want to take it with them? I drink some more, grateful for someone’s generosity.

This is the perfect place to rest. Two trees on one side of the trail, and one tree on the other side. Someone could sit here all day and be shaded.  On top of this hill I can see for miles around. The horizon is a bunch of brown hills and valleys with patches of dark green scrub and scattered low-lying trees.

The trail winds up and down some hills and gullies and definitely travels northward for the most part, but for as far as I can see, there is still no civilization. The blue sky is the most barren part of this landscape. Not a bird or cloud in sight.

Snakes! Just when I get comfortable, they pop into my mind. I look around cautiously. I don’t see any, so I relax a bit. I want to take a nap, but I’m afraid I’ll wake up at night and be lost, or worse: I could wake up and find myself spooning with a rattlesnake. I pick up one of the gallon bottles of water and begin to walk again.

Am I on the main trail or a side trail? Is this going to town or is this how the local animals get around the hills, not really wanting to go into town?

Something moves on the ground, crawling away from me.  I look closer. It’s a scorpion. Holy Shit! Scorpions too? I jump up and look all around to see if there are more.

I might as well get moving again, sticking to the largest, most used trail.

The sun is about halfway down and west is very obvious now. I notice the trail mostly going deeper and deeper northward, into the US.  That sounds good. In the USA. I’m home. All I have to do now is find a pay-phone, or get a ride into a town and call Mom. I can’t wait to sleep in a bed again, take a real shower. And work. Darren. What kind of sabotage has he done to me?

I hear a woman’s voice. I must be getting close to the others. That’s great; I’ve been going the right way after all. Wait a minute. She’s not talking, she’s yelling. Someone is getting a piece of her mind. She’s probably pissed she’s been dragged out here in the middle of nowhere.

Wait. Is she crying?

Another voice . . . a guy . . . he’s yelling.

To the left, about half a mile away, near a small valley, is a tree with many brightly colored things in it’s branches. That tree is probably important for some reason. Maybe it has water or food. That’s where the crying is coming from. I take off my sombrero and inch closer. My stomach grumbles, angry at only having water to feed on all day.

The girl whimpers and cries. It sounds like the guy is hitting her. He’s yelling, then laughing. A young girl runs out from beneath the cover of the tree. I duck lower, behind some scrub.

The girl’s hair is messy, and her clothes are ripped, or half off. She struggles to keep her shirt on. A man yells at her as he comes out from under the tree. It’s the guy with the gun. He’s tucking in his pants. Another guy comes out from under the tree. I don’t recognize him. She keeps some distance from them as they look at her, speaking more calmly. She tosses something white up into the tree. The stranger yells at her again and she runs down a trail that leads around a hill and I don’t see her any more. The guy with the gun laughs, says goodbye to his buddy, then follows after her.

She looked like she might be the older girl in that family that came out of the van. And older, I just mean older than her eight or ten year old brother. Something’s not right here. Where’s the mother and father?

The stranger ducks back into the tree, then comes back out and slings a rifle over his shoulder. Great! More guns. He heads up the path leading right to me.

Holy shit! I duck and crawl backwards halfway around the hill, keeping out of sight and scouting for avenues of escape. There’s really nowhere to go. I grip my sombrero tightly. I slowly walk backwards around the hill as I watch the guy with the rifle walk by on the trail that leads to the camp I just came from.

Oh no! The camp. I got the water from his camp. I look at the jug of water in my hand—it’s half empty.

When I get around the hill enough to where I can’t see the guy with the rifle any more, I take off running down the trail, leading down to the brightly decorated tree. That’s the only place you can’t see into from on top of that hill the camp is on. On the other side of the colorful tree is a trail leading into some short, dense brush and more hills. I don’t know where it goes from there, but it must go somewhere. I run over to the tree and duck into it’s protective cover.

Underneath the tree I see a ripped, blue sleeping bag opened-up and lying on a flattened out cardboard box. Nothing much else.

I look up into the branches of the tree and what I see doesn’t make sense. What the heck is underwear doing up in the tree branches? And not just any underwear—panties. Many different kinds and colors. There must be two or three dozen of them hanging from the branches like colorful little sunshades.

The sleeping bag looks freshly used. A sick story assembles in my head. She tossed—he made her toss her panties up there . . . as a decoration, or souvenir or something. They raped that little girl; her clothes were ripped. I swear, if I had a gun right now . . . Those bastards. What is up with these people? She was, what, ten? Twelve max.

Walking around the tree I discover a few scattered women’s shirts and a pair of small pants, off to the side. The pants look like kid’s pants. There’s no food or water here—this is not that type of camp.

What could possess someone to not only rape young girls, but decorate a tree with their panties? Even wild animals wouldn’t do such a thing. That guy wasn’t a coyote—he’s a . . . a . . . I can’t even think of anything to compare him to. Evil. He’s just evil. I need to get as far away from this place as possible, and right now.

I follow the trail leading out the other side of the tree, and into some more brush. I’m not ten steps from the tree, and I see a body—a small one. This one has no pants. She has not been dead long, and there are flies all around her face. The smell is horrific. She’s in the most unnatural position, like she was thrown there, and abandoned like an unwanted doll. I can’t look. It makes me so upset. I want to throw up, but there’s nothing in my stomach but water, and I don’t dare lose any of that.

A deep sadness grips me, and I try to put as much distance between me and the tree of panties as I can. I throw up what little water is in my stomach, then swallow it back down, over and over again, for about half a mile. I feel dizzy, and the specter of depression rips through my chest and pulls downward on my back and shoulders. I want to lie down, curl up into a little ball and go to sleep, but I can’t. Not here. Not now.

Oh God . . . her mouth was open, as if screaming, or gasping for air. I try not to think about it, but the memory lingers in my eyes like the brightly colored shadows that stay in your vision after you stare directly into a light bulb, then close your eyes. What kind of place is this? This is not the United States I know.

I think about the family of the girl they just raped. The father, mother, young son—and her. What must it be like for them, to have to travel this way? For a father and mother to make that kind of decision, to risk their entire family’s lives to come to the US. I wish I could talk with them and find out what was worse than this, to make that choice? I can’t even begin to understand it. I bet now they wish they had stayed home and lived in poverty or starved, or whatever.

What if I run into these animals? I would love to kick some sick Mexican coyote ass . . . Mexican. I just said Mexican like a swear word. That felt kinda weird. I’m a Mexican too, kinda, but I’m nothing like these guys.

Keeping to the main trail, I keep an eye out for more colored trees or shady camps. The scraggly brush has left me exposed with nothing but the curves of the hills to hide behind. I know the guy with the rifle has noticed his missing water by now.

As if on cue, I hear a gunshot from behind me, and a short zinging sound to my right. It’s him! I knew that was his camp. Many things fly through my brain at the speed of light. I run farther up the hill, following the creek in it’s snake-like course, trying to lose myself behind the curves in the hills.

Every time I look behind me to see if the rifle guy is there, I almost twist my ankle, like every person in every movie who has ever run from a killer. I hate where this is going.

Screaming coming from high on the hill behind me tells me he’s climbing up the ridge to get a better angle. A shot rings out and it hits somewhere behind me. He obviously doesn’t plan on capturing me. I run around the curve of another hill again. It’s hot and I’m getting thirsty. All my energy is about to be used up very soon. Moisture slowly seeps out of my skin and into my clothes.

The cursing stops and the shooting begins again. I hear zinging sounds followed by bullets hitting the ground around me. He yells. More shots. A bullet whizzes by my right ear. Is he getting better or luckier? Does it even matter?

Zig to the left for a few steps, zag to the right—another shot. That one came close to my right hip. I don’t seem to be able to zig and zag and think at the same time. My body is getting heavy, and my lungs can’t get enough air. I stagger to the left, then forward, then to the right.

Turning the corner of a nice steep hill, I freeze. The guy with the gun doesn’t even matter any more. Right in front of me are two mounted patrol deputies in the bottom of the valley between two hills, guns drawn and aiming right at me.  “Don’t shoot! I don’t have a gun.” I instinctively drop the water and put my hands up.

The officer on the brown horse says some stuff in Spanish as the other one gets off his black horse and looks around the corner to see where the shots came from. He lies on his belly and looks through some binoculars and occasionally talks into a radio.

We stay like this for a few minutes, when the desert silence explodes with the thumping of a helicopter as it jumps low over the hill behind us, heading in the direction I had just come from. Yes! Let’s see that rabbit outrun that. Now the hunter becomes the hunted. I wish I could be there when that animal gets what’s coming to him.

The officer on the brown horse speaks some more Spanish to me, but his southern accent makes it sound like a combination of Spanish and Yiddish.

“What? I don’t speak Spanish.”

“Don’t speak Spanish amigo? Where you from?”

“Arbol Verde, Arizona.”

“Really? You do know you’re quite a ways from home?”

“Yeah . . . I got lost.”

“We can see that.” They both laugh, and the officer that was on the ground dusts himself off and puts his radio and binoculars away. “What do you do in Arbol Verde?” asks the officer on the brown horse.

“I go to school and I work part time at Taco Bell on Justin Boulevard, just call them.”

“Who was shooting at you, amigo?”

“Why are you calling me amigo?”

“Ok son, what’s your name?”

I hate my life . . . “Francisco Villa.” He looks at me with those damn sunglasses.

“Okay, if that’s the way you want it . . .” The officer now standing next to me, spins me around and snaps a plastic strap on my left hand, then yanks it down behind my back, and before I know it, I have both hands in plastic handcuffs. I think I pissed him off. He pats me down roughly. When he’s satisfied I don’t have any weapons, he pushes me to the ground. With my hands behind my back, I can’t catch my fall, so I land on my shoulder and my head, and wake up my aching ribs.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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