Open 2021 Open Stories - Robert Bishop


Desert Night
By Robert Bishop


The smuggler stopped and the six people following him stopped, too. “We are here,” the smuggler said. “We are at the border.” Tall,brown metal plates sunk into the earth barred their advance. “Estados Unidos is on the other side of this iron wall. We will rest before crossing the barrier in the night.” The smuggler pointed to a gap cut in the metal plates large enough to permit passage. “We will pass through that opening.”


The migrants stared silently at the opening. “Will there be water?” one of them asked.“The Americans put water stations in the desert. You will find water at these stations,” the smuggler told them. “It is nothing to worry about. Now you will rest for the journey tonight.”


The migrants scattered, seeking shade under the creosote bushes covering the hard desert floor. Lucia and Juan Diego found a creosote bush away from the others. Juan Diego spread a thin blue plastic sheet over the bush to create shade. They removed their backpacks and put them on the ground next to the plastic one-gallon jug of water each carried then saton the hard, rocky surface. The ground felt hot through their clothing. The sun blazed in the cloudless desert sky.


“Drink,” Juan Diego said to Lucia. “You must drink water.” He held the plastic jug to her mouth. Lucia’s throat bobbled as she swallowed the water.


“The water is hot, Juan Diego. It is too hot to comfort my thirst,” she said and lay down on the groundwith her head on her backpack.


Juan Diego drank from the jug. “The water is hot, but it is water. We need to drink the water.” He lay on his back next to Lucia and used his pack for a pillow. “We must sleep now. We need to rest for the journey tonight.”


“We have made a mistake,” said Lucia. “We should have stayed in Guatemala. We are going to die in this desert.”


“We will not die in the desert. Lucia, we are going to Los Angeles. It is the city of angels. There is an angel there, waiting for us.”


“How do you know?”


“Everyone has an angel, Lucia.”


“We are here. He should be here with us here. Why does he wait for us in the city? I think the angel has abandoned us in this terrible desert.”


“Our angel has not abandoned us. He is looking for us. This desert is very big and we are very small. It will take time for him to find us. Now sleep. We need to rest for our journey tonight.”


“I feel it, Juan Diego. We are going to die in this desert.” Lucia covered her eyes with her hands. “We should have stayed in Guatemala.”


“We cannot stay in Guatemala, Lucia. The gangs will rape you and kill us if we do not pay the bribes. Guatemala is not safe. We cannot pay the bribes. We do not have enough money to pay the bribes they demand every month. It is better we cross the desert and get to Los Angeles.”


Lucia kept her hands over her eyes and lay still. Juan Diego thought she might have fallen asleep. Then she said, “The smuggler looks at me with hunger in his eyes, Juan Diego. He wants me.”


Juan Diego did not say anything. It must be the heat, he decided. The heat and the exhausting journey north from Guatemala is making all of us behave badly and say strange things. “How do you know the smuggler wants you?”


“This morning when Ana Sofia and I went into the bushes to relieve ourselves she told me what the smuggler did to her in the night.”


“What did he do?” Juan Diego did not want to hear the answer to his question.


“The smuggler went to her when she was sleeping and took her. He took her in the night, Juan Diego. She is alone in this desert with the smuggler. Ana Sofia has no one to help her.”


“I will kill him if he touches you.” Juan Diego’s voice sounded flat and tinny in the hot, suffocating air.


“He is big and strong. He will overpower you.”


“No, no he will not. I will go to him now. We will settle this before the night comes.” Juan Diego started to get to his feet.


Lucia gripped his arm and kept him from getting up. “I have something to tell you.” He lay down next to her. She put her lips close to his ear. “Juan Diego, I am pregnant.” Her voice sounded hollow and lost in the hot shade cast by the tarp spread over the creosote bush.


“You are pregnant?” Juan Diego felt as if the air were being squeezed out of his chest by a gigantic hand that had closed around him. “How do you know?”


“I know, Juan Diego, I know the signs. I am pregnant.”


“How long have you known?” Juan Diego searched for Lucia’s hand.


“Two months after we started our journey.”


“We arethreemonths from Guatemala,” said Juan Diego. “So you are one month, yes?”


“Yes, Juan Diego. It is one month now. I am sorry. I did not want this to happen.”


“It is no matter. Our son will be born in the City of Angles.”


Lucia giggled. “How do you know our baby is a boy? I think our baby is a girl.”


“Oh, no. This is journey is too hard for a girl. Our baby is a boy. Only a boy can survive this terrible desert.”


“You are wrong. We are going to have a girl. She will be strong. I want to name her Ana Sofia.”


“That is a good name.”


“What about the smuggler? He wants me.”


“You are sure of this?”


“Yes, Juan Diego. A woman can tell what a man is thinking by the way he looks at her. The smuggler’s eyes have a fever in them.I will not be safe until we pass through the barrier tonight and are away from him.”


Juan Diego released Lucia’s hand. “Yes, the smuggler. I will go see him now.” Juan Diego got to his feet.


“The smuggler is dangerous and we are alone with him. The others will not help you.”


“I do not need their help.”


Juan Diego returned and sat down next to her. “The smuggler will not bother us. Ana Sofia is safe. She does not need to fear the smuggler.”


Lucia saw blood on Juan Diego’s hands. He tried to scrub it off with dirt. “Use the water,” she told him.


“No, we need the water to drink.”


“Is he dead?” Lucia sat up.


“Yes, he is dead. I stabbed him with my knife. I took back the money we paid him. It is ours. When the others find him they can take back their money. I left it for them.We must leave before the others know what has happened.”


Juan Diego got up, put his backpack on and helped Lucia to her feet. She put her backpack on, picked up one of the water jugs and followed Juan Diego to the metal barrier.


They passed through the opening and walked into the desert. The sun blazed over them, the hot air difficult to breathe.

The sun was nearing the horizon and the heat was stilloppressive when they stopped to rest. Lucia dropped her backpack and sat next to it with the water jug between her legs. Juan Diego sat next to her.


“How far have we come?” asked Lucia. “We must have walked many kilometers.”


“Drink,” Juan Diego said. He held the water bottle to Lucia’s mouth and watched her throat move as the water went down.


“Now you,” she said.


“I am not thirsty.” He pushed the jug away.


“Juan Diego, you must drink. You need water.” Lucia pushed the jug toward him. He drank.


“The smuggler said there are water stations in the desert. Some Americans put water in the desert for migrants like us,” Juan Diego said. “We will find one if we run out of water.”


“Let’s rest for a while.When the moon rises we can go on,” she said. “It will provide enough light for us to see in the night.”

Lucia put her head on her backpack and rolled onto her side to face Juan Diego. “It is so hot. I have never been so hot. This heat is going to kill me. I will die under this bush, turn to dust and blow away with the desert wind.”


“You cannot die. You are carrying our son.”


Lucia laughed. “I carry our child, Juan Diego.You will be happy if our child is a girl, yes?”


“Yes,” said Juan Diego.“I will be happy.” He smiled at her and touched her cheek. “Our angel is in the desert. He is looking for us. He will find us and we will be safe. He will show us the way to the City of Angels. Now we must go.”


Lucia reached for her backpack under the creosote bush. Her scream was loud, painful, and desperate. “Juan Diego!” she shrieked. “Cascabel,la serpiente de cascabel!” The snake pulled back from her arm and coiled up under the creosote bush with its tail elevated, the rattles reverberating in the desert air.


She jumped to her feet and staggered away from the bush. Juan Diego screamed, picked up a large flat rock and threw it on the snake. The snake’s rattle stuck out from under the rock, vibrating, making that deathly sound.


“Let me see,” said Juan Diego. He pulled Lucia’s hand away from her arm and saw two red puncture marks over the large vein in the bend of her elbow.


“It hurts, Juan Diego, it hurts so much.” Lucia started to cry.


“You must lie down,” said Juan Diego. Lucia lay down under another creosote bush, away from the snakeJuan Diego had crushed with the rock.


“I am going to die. Our baby is going to die. Juan Diego, I do not want to die in this terrible desert. Please do not let me die.”


“You will not die, Lucia. Lie still. Do not move. Do not make the poison move in your arm.” Juan Diego poured some water on a cloth he pulled from his backpack and put it over the puncture marks in her arm. “Lie still so the poison does not move.”


“What are we going to do? Oh, it hurts, Juan Diego, it hurts so much.” Lucia closed her eyes.


“Lie still, Lucia. Do not move. You must remain calm so the poison does not spread.”


“I’m frightened, Juan Diego. I do not want to die. I do not want our baby to die in this terrible desert.”


Juan Diego held her and stroked her hair. “Perhaps the cascabel did not put a lot of poison in you. It did not seem such a large snake. We must remain calm. You are not going to die.”


“It’s no use. I feel it, Juan Diego, I feel death coming for me and our baby.” Lucia gasped for breath.


Her mouth fell open. Juan Diego watched the fire go out of her eyes, then she died.


Juan Diego held her all night. He could not think. He could not feel. He could not understand her death. Why should she die so suddenly from a snake bite?Many people recovered from snake bites. Was this cascabel different? Was it evil? Perhaps it had been sent to kill the angel who was looking for them in this desert. He did not know why Lucia died.


Coyotes howled in the moonlight as Juan Diego held Lucia in his arms. He feared what they would do if he left her unattended. He could not leave her body exposed on the surface. The coyotes would eat her, and the vultures with their savage beaks would tear the flesh from her bones.


In the early morning, before the sun was above the horizon, Juan Diego began to dig a grave. He used his knife and a sharp rock to break the hard desert soil. The skin on his fingers wore away from scraping the hard, brittle soil.


He did not look at the blazing sun as it rose in the clear desert sky but he felt its heat on his shoulders as he dug into the hardground. He paused to drink water when thirst became too great and the heat became unbearable. He emptied one water jug and saw that the second one was half full. It was enough water for him to finish what he had to do.

Juan Diego put Lucia in the grave and crossed her arms over her chest. The arm with the snake bite was swollen and discolored, the skin stretched so tight Juan Diego thought it might split open. He covered her face and body with the blue plastic tarp he had used to create shade under a creosote bush the day they passed through the metal barrier.


He began to push the soil over the thin blue tarp with his hands. He didn’t feel the pain in his raw fingers. He felt numb. The heat was nothing now and he did not feel it. As he pushed the dirt over Lucia he cursed the angel that was supposed to meet them in this terrible desert and guide them to safety.


When he finished covering her body with the soil and had heaped it into a mound, he collected large flat rocks from the desert surface and put them over the grave to keep the animals from digging it open and devouring her flesh.


The sun was going down when he put the last rock on the grave. Juan Diego drank the last of the water and lay down next to the rock-covered mound of dirt. He closed his eyes.


Maybe, he thought, the angel will come as I sleep.


Robert P. Bishop from US ia a veteran, and a teacher. He has a Master’s in Biology and lives in Tucson, Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in Active Muse, The Literary Hatchet, Better Than Starbucks, Scarlet Leaf Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine, CommuterLit, Lunate Fiction Magazine, Ink Pantry, Fleas on the Dog, Corner Bar Magazine, Literally Stories, Ariel Chart, Clover and White and elsewhere.


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