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"dropped off the edge again down in juarez

"don't even bat an eye if the eagle cries" the rasta man says

just cause the desert likes young girls flesh and

no angel came…"

- Tori Amos




The taxi coils through the small, dusty roads of the cuidad like a snake, yellow-backed with black stripes down the sides. I rest my head against the cool, leather seats and catch a bead of sweat that is trickling into my collar with a finger. I watch the people outside the car.


The adults do not stare. Their eyes are fixed ahead, focused on buying bread for supper, or delivering a letter, or whatever has chased them out of the cool brick stones of their houses into the blistering heat. The children ogle the car curiously, wanting to touch the shiny metal, wanting the precious pesos that strangers in shiny metal cars sometimes give. The dirtier street children lick their lips and try to anticipate where the car will stop. They are imagining deep pockets. They are imagining food in their bellies tonight. The women look but only fleetingly, their eyes darting like a bird’s, nervous and quick.


I signal the taxi driver to stop the car in front of the Mission. The children sigh with disappointment. Even the hungriest among them would not dare to steal in front of the church, with Dios’ eyes watching. I pay the driver and he leaves me standing on the steps of the Misión de Guadalupe with my bag at my feet. The children watch me warily from the shadows and I throw some pesos in their direction, remembering what it was like to be hungry. The white walls of the Misión seem to shimmer in the heat, like a mirage. I can only stand and stare at the doors which are opened to let the breeze in.




The sharp call disturbs the birds from their perch in the bell tower and they flee; a great rushing of gray wings that thunders in my ears. I watch them until they become specks in the distance and then turn towards the voice.


"Buenos Dias, Padre. I hope I find you well."


The priest looks older now, perhaps even older then last year when I visited. He is a bit more gray, a bit more stooped. His bones have become weaker and he is smaller then I remembered him to be. Or perhaps I am taller. I hurry up the rest of the steps so he does not have to walk down all the way and grasp his hands.


"I had thought last year you were finished with this nonsense," he scolds, shaking his gray head. "But you are here again. Testarudo. Stubborn brat."


"Dios loves me anyway, Padre," I tease, placing a kiss on the rough skin of his knuckles and giving him the smile that never failed to get me out of trouble when I was a little boy. Padre talks tough, but inside, he is as soft as dough.


"Well come in, mi hijo, come in. It is too hot for an old man to be outside at this time in the day. I am melting away just standing here," he says and leads me into the coolness of the church. It is quite empty today, everyone is busy during midmorning, when there are chores and errands to run before the day gets too hot for such things. Later, when evening comes, the church will be filled with people and their rosaries, ready to tell Dios their dreams, their wishes, and for the women, their fears.


I dip my fingers into the holy water provided and cross myself to the Virgin in reflex. I have not been in a church since last year at this time. I do not think I am Catholic anymore. Either Dios has become deaf to me, or I have become deaf to Him, but we are not on speaking terms. The priest makes his supplication to the Virgin and then turns to me, his face grave.


"Will you go out again tonight?" he asks.


I nod and he sighs.


"Do you not think it is time to let go? She is with Dios now, and does not feel pain. It is you that everyone worries about, Angelo."


Anger stirs inside on me and my hands fist into the cloth of my trousers. "You do not know she is dead," I snap, trying to keep my voice under control.


Padre does not reprimand me. His eyes hold only sadness. Guilt overrides my anger and I apologize. Mamá would be horrified if she could see me now, raising my voice in anger to a man of God.


"I must know. It will never be finished until I know." I think of Luz in her white dress, braids falling down her back with a red ribbon around the ends. "I need to know."


"Then," he sighs," I will ask Dios to bless you and protect you on your journey."




I let the priest say his blessings over me. Dios may listen or He may not. I will be making my journey with or without His protection. They say not even El Diablo, the Devil, will venture into the deserts of Juarez alone. Where the Devil will not go, can Dios hope to follow?


The sun is hot against my back as I walk out of the church, leaving the Padre to attend to the Virgin. The children peek out from the corners of the old, crumbling buildings but it is too hot, even for their curiosity. They snooze in the shadows of their hideaways and wait for the relief of the evening darkness. I take a hat out of my bag and shake the dust off its surface. Everything here is buried in sand. It pours into every orifice, every crack, every space of air, hot and gritty and dry. I have not missed the desert.


The taxi did not wander far from where I left it. No one has the pesos for a car these days and everything is in walking distance except the maquiladoras, which provide buses for their workers. I hail the taxi once more and direct it to my old home. Rosa will be glad to see me and I can sleep until evening in peace there.


Rosa greets me like a long lost son who has wandered home…and in a way, I am. But there is no one sitting on the stone steps of my house, no smells of tortillas baking on the stove wafting out the front door. The windows are boarded and lizards skitter over the rough wooden planks into the shaded cracks. Rosa watches me cautiously, as if I might break apart or fade from her sight at any second.


"Come inside Angelo," she urges. "Do not look at that house anymore. It is bad luck to dwell on such things."


"How can I do anything but dwell?" I ask, but I let her lead me into her own home which is much livelier.


The television blares and three sandy children are settled in front of it, cheering on the cartoon figure on the screen. Rosa calls them to greet me and I smile at their obvious reluctance to tear their eyes from the television for the few seconds it takes to mumble hello.


"You are all much bigger then when I saw you last," I comment and all three puff with pride.


"I will be tallest," one of the older boys, Elian I think, boasts and the other children immediately pounce on him with objections.


Rosa smiles at them with fond exasperation and offers me a glass of limonada to drink. I shake my head and indicate that I would just like to rest out of the sun until nightfall.


"Tonight will be a busy one," I joke, although it comes out rather bitter. I shall have to try harder to control my emotions.


Rosa looks worried. Her hands go to the rosary around her next and count off the beads reflexively. "Must you do this?" she asks. "It has been five years. Maybe you should just let go."


"I can’t!" My fist swings up and I work hard to keep the anger out of my voice. I reach into my pocket and pull out the small silver cross that had once belonged to Luz, feeling the edges bite into my skin, grounding me. I breathe deep and look at Rosa. She is pale now, and her lip quivers.


"Perdón, Rosa." The guilt stabs at me again. I am pushing everyone away, but I cannot help it. "I’m sorry. I just…I can’t give up yet. I need to know."


She nods, her eyes still nervous. "I don’t think you will find your answers this year Angelo. You did not find them last year, or the year before. The desert sands bury everything. She is dead, and it is best to forget the past. But…you are still familia, still the child of my sister. Our home will always be yours to use when you need it."


"Gracias, tía Rosa," I say and she blinks in surprise. I have not called her that since I was a child.


I go to the small bedroom and lay down, willing my body to ignore the stifling heat and sleep. The noise of the television mingled with the excited chatter of the children fades into the background as my eyes fall shut. The small cross is still in my hand as the world melts into black and gray.


When I awaken it is quiet and cool. The breeze sweeps in through the open windows and doors and tickles my cheeks. I open my eyes to the brilliant orange and purple of a Mexican sunset. Outside the children shriek as they play in the dust and I can hear soft voices in the kitchen and dishes being washed.


"Ah, you are awake now, are you?" A familiar voice says. I look up at Rosa’s husband, Hector, and nod, shaking the cover of sleep from my shoulders. Tío Hector works at the maquiladoras during the daytime, while Rosa looks after the children. Luz used to work at there as well before…


"I must be going. It is almost time," I say, pulling my pack onto my shoulders and stooping to give Rosa a kiss. She still looks worried so I smile and say, "This will be the last year."


"You say that every year," she complains, but she returns my kiss and sends me on my way with a dishcloth to the bottom.


I am laughing as I exit the house, but as I wander in the desert I quickly lose my smile. The sun dips low on the horizon and the breeze is now chilly. Above the bright streaks of orange and magenta, a dark blue sky spreads across the desert and spatterings of white stars poke through like pinpricks in a blanket. Coyotes call in the distance and I stumble over the sand, avoiding the lizards and snakes that like to travel in the coolness of the night.


Cacti create odd shadows on the dunes in the darkness and I shiver, holding tight to Luz’s cross. Even if Dios cannot enter here, perhaps the bad spirits could be frightened away by the holy symbol.


Luz’s cross…She was only three years older then me but I used to tease her for her shortness. Luz was so small and thin that Mamá would always say that a strong wind could blow her away from us. But Luz was strong and stubborn. She would never let anyone do her work for her. Luz earned money for the younger ones, el niños, by working at the maquiladoras on weekends. We used to wait for her to come home even though it was way past our bedtime when the bus arrived with Luz and her dark red smock. Sometimes she would bring us bombóns which she had bought from the other workers at the plant. Then, one day, she didn’t come home at all.


The air is cold now, the moon is high in the air and it would be too dark to walk through the desert if not for its light. Still, it is hard to see in the darkness and I must be careful not to step on a cactus plant. The colonias seems very far away and I wonder how long I have been walking. I have never been lost in the desert before, but tonight feels strange. Perhaps it is time to let the ritual go.


No, I see it now, the strange rocky formation where they found Luz’s cross. No matter how much we dug into the sand, no body was ever found. It’s been five years. She can’t be alive, I know that. Other bodies are found every so often, always women, always women with the same dark hair and thin bodies. She cannot be alive, but still I won’t let her go. Not until I know for sure. Not until I see.


I reach the formation and drop onto the sand, shrugging my bag from my shoulders and taking a drink from the canteen I brought with me. The water is warm but it serves to quench my thirst. I stare at the sand, trickling down from red rock, rock the colour of old blood, and think about Luz. My eyes shut only for a moment…


I must have fallen asleep. When my eyes open again there is a fire burning next to me and an old man sitting out of the smoke, mixing something in a bowl. He is wrinkled and brown, a native from the desert tribes maybe. His eyes are nearly hidden beneath the tough folds of skin. He hums a strange tune while he mixes and the ridiculously large poncho flaps in the breeze in rhythm to his song. I blink and grab at my cross. Is this an illusion or a demon?


"It is neither," the man says and I gasp in surprise.


"How did you know what I was thinking if you aren’t a demon," I ask.


"You said it out loud," the man replied, not looking up from his task. "What are you doing out in the desert so late and by yourself? It is dangerous here, you know."


"I could say the same thing to you viejo. I can take care of myself."


"I never said you couldn’t."


The old man was infuriating, but that is a characteristic of all old men. I decide that I have nothing to lose by talking to him. Company is always a good thing on a lonely desert night.


"Not a demon then. Only an old man in the desert. Perhaps you are espectro, eh? But no, the only spirits here are of women, young women…"


An image of Luz flashes before my eyes and I wince as if stabbed.


The old man nods and hands the bowl to me. "Drink," he says.


I look at the mashed contents dubiously. "What is it?"




I nearly drop the bowl. "Are you crazy?! Don’t you know that stuff is poisonous?"


He smiles and shakes his head. "Not that small amount. There is only enough to give you the clarity you seek. I am Medicine Man. I would not poison you."


This does not give me comfort but I am still curious. Would drinking the datura really help me to see what I need to know? Nothing else has worked and it has been five years. I am tired of waiting.


"Go ahead," the old man urges. "Your hermana is waiting for you to find her. Perhaps you will not have to wait another five years."


"Did I say that out loud too?" I snort.


"No," the man leans closer. "That time I read your thoughts."


My mouth gapes open and the old man pushes the bowl to my lips, making the cool, sticky liquid run down my throat. I gain a hold of my senses and wrench myself away, panting.




A wave of dizziness hits me and suddenly the man is smiling, his face pushed very close to mine. It changes, stretches, grins and gapes. I try to move away but my limbs are suddenly heavy. As colors swim before my eyes I hear laughter, the soft peal of a young girl’s voice, close to my ear. My head throbs and I reach out towards the sound.




Darkness folds in over the sparkling colors and I see my body as if from very far away. I am drowning in an ocean of gray and white sand. The old man stands above me but his shape has changed. He has the look of a wolf now. He grins with all his teeth.


"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."


"You…" My throat feels scorched and I watch the wolf come closer, watch his teeth glint in the moonlight. The wind blows around us and I suddenly remember Rosa’s words.


‘The desert sands bury everything.’


"Then perhaps you should dig." The old man, the wolf, is moving and I move with him, across the sands. He gestures and I drop to the ground, feeling the sand grow wet and heavy beneath my knees. A strange red stain spreads out from below me and I scream when I discover it is blood.


"And their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung."


I can smell it now, the rotted stench of dead flesh. Luz’s cross is around my neck and I do not remember fixing it there. The sky spins above me and I dig, dig in the wet, bloody sand, feeling my hands become slick with it.


‘The desert sands bury everything.’


My hands find something solid beneath the sands. I halt my frantic progress, terrified. What if it is Luz? I wanted to know the truth but how could I stand knowing? After all this time, how could I see now and still remain sane?


I grasp what I am certain is a body and drag it to the surface, the dry white sea parting for this mass of decaying human flesh. I stare at the thing in my hands with a dull kind of horror. It was a woman once. The face is shrunken and discolored but the hair is long and thick and black as ink. Blood spreads across the neck and drips off the remains of a maquiladora smock. But most horrifying, one of the breasts on this thing that was once a woman has been cut off. Bile rises in my throat and I gag and cough.




"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…" the wolf whispers.




"No," he says, "He is not here."


My throat tightens. "Then you are El Diablo. What have you done to my sister?"


"Not me," he replies, shaking his head. "This was the work of men. Not even El Diablo comes to Juarez."


"Then who are you?" I cry, leaping up to fasten my arms around the creature’s neck, to choke out of him the answers that I sought. But as I lurched to my feet and fell forward the world spun and titled dizzily and I sank down on the cold sand, hearing the laughter of the old man in my ears.


I awake in a hospital bed. An old enfermera with a face like softened dough stands over me, clucking her tongue.


"So, you are awake finally. You are very lucky, you know. They found you on the border, almost dead from dehydration. We found traces of datura in your blood too. It is a good thing the amount was small or you would be walking with Dios right now. What on earth were you doing out there?" she says, glaring at me.


They seem to accept my story that I was a tourist that had gotten lost in the desert and had ingested the datura by mistake, thinking it was cactus flower. I had lived in America long enough to lose my accent and my skin is paler then most Mexicans. When I ask about the old man the doctors just shake their heads at me.


"You’re very lucky to be alive," my dough-faced nurse says. "Strange things happen in the desert. Yesterday they found the body of a young woman over by the colonias buried in the sand."


My breath stops and I ask quickly if they know who the woman was.


She nods and says, "El Diario named her as Gloria Olivas Manchez. Her familia identified the body this morning. This is the third body found this month. Pobrecitas."


Poor things. My head nods and I breathe again. It is a silly thing to feel relief about. I knew that the corps the old man showed me could not have been Luz. There would be nothing but bones if I found her now.


The enfermera gives me my clothes and I pull them on hastily, anxious to get back to Rosa so that she will not worry that I am dead as well. My hand reaches into my jacket for the pesos to pay the doctors but instead my fingers tangle in something and I pull a long string of red ribbon from my pocket. I stare at it in shock.


"That’s a pretty ribbon," the enfermera says. "Is it your daughter’s?"


"No," I say, cradling the bit of silk in my palm. "my sister’s."


‘The desert sands bury everything.’


As I walk into the streets my gaze wanders to the borderland, the stretch of white desert, pulsing in waves of heat and dust. I wrap the ribbon around my wrist and feel the fabric bite into my skin.


"See you next year Luz," I murmur to the sands.


Above me, the eagle shrieks and it sounds like an old man laughing…



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Just wondering...


When you kept using the phrase, "The desert sands bury everything.",

were you using that to show a truth that the character knew but wouldn't accept?

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What do you think?  ;)


Tell me! :vent:


Tell me now! :vent:


I must know!! :vent:



Please? :twitch:








Of course that's what I thought. I was just

wondering if that's what you intended. :shrug:

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Hmm, what I intended and what ended up on page are often two very different things. However I will say this, when I say that the desert sand bury everything, I mean more then just a few dead bodies. The sands of Juarez are covering up a whole lot more then that right now...

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Okay. I was just reading it as it pertains to this story. :ugh:

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Are you a Tori Amos fan? Fellow Tori Amos fan? :D

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I like certain Tori stuff. Everything up until after Scarlett excluding Y Kant Tori Read. :grin:

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LOL I agree. Scarlet's Walk sucked (although my husband and I used A Sorta Fairytale for our wedding-- it was a fairytale/medieval themed weddiong). I do like Sweet the Sting on the latest, however... a VERY sexy song!

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I actually liked a lot of Scarlet. Sweet Sangria and Virginia were probably my favourites from that album. And Carbon gave me inspiration for a story. But From the Choirgirl Hotel will always be my favourite album.

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