At last, we arrive at our father's hometown in Mexico. It is up in the mountains into the deep desert, away from the city's flashing lights and the urban noise. To a place ten long hours away from the state's capital to a remote town from actual civilization. Us going back in history to a time full of heart and memories of long ago. Where the people make their own cheese, kill their own cattle, and ride their broken horses. A place, a town, a ranch as scarce of people that it is two people more than a ghost town. A home he left many years ago as a youth. Father returns home with his beautiful wife from a land far south of his. Three young boys that are his own were brought from the States. I, Archer, was merely ten; Lance almost eight; and Hunter still in first grade.
Mother, in protest, drops our bags onto the floor. "I want to go home. I don't want to be in Mexico. I left for a reason. I wanted civilization for our children. That's why they have strong American names."
"This is great," Father said with a long sardonic smile. This act of revenge against Mother for not being able to come here sooner as he wished for many years was underhanded. Since I can remember, he has wanted to go to Mexico, live off his ill-earned money, and hide from the authorities.
As we climbed down from the back of the beat-up truck, which miraculously made it this far, we could feel the dirt fill our nostrils, making us cough. The truck, a large smoking heap of junk, sat in the middle of the road, waiting for a bullet in the engine to take away its misery. For unclear reasons, we did not drive the new SUV of the year, with the white camel leather seats and video screens behind each seat with DVD players and earphones. The SUV Has bulletproof windows and military-grade sidings to protect us from harm.
We stood on the roadside, two miles to Father's childhood town. A long walk to his village awaited us, even for the best of us. Alas, mother gathered us in her arms. "I guess we walk. Leave the luggage. Your father will get someone to help get it to the house."
Father smirked and cursed under his breath. "Go. I'll find someone to help me with this."
The long winding road to the town was covered in manure. Tracks of horses, cattle, and pigs covered it. Lance almost stepped on a few cow pies. After a while, he would jump on them, making them explode over his shoes. Hunter ran in front of us, screaming and yelling. "I'm free. I'm free." Free from the confines of hours on a hot truck. Bouncing like marbles in a closed can of soda, waiting to be released and sprayed upon exit. I walked calmly, looking at the barren desert we would now call home. The sight of a cactus in the distance, a few brittle trees, and yellow grass on the horizon gave us sorrow.
The dirty white and grey houses loomed around us as the town got closer. Each building shared the same sidewalls. Block after block through the main street, a silence I had never heard before surrounded us. Hunter felt the silence and yelled, "Anyone home. Hello."
Lance decided to knock on doors, "Come out. Come out, whoever you are."
Mother could only laugh at her children waking up ghosts from forgotten lore. Her composure changed from anger to disappointment to loneliness and fear. "I want to go home," she whispered and wiped a tear from her eye. Her jewelry was put away in a safety deposit box. Her fashionable clothes were sent to the Salvation Army. Her hair was dyed a drab brown, contrasting her highlighted and couture of fashion. Her trimmed nails are void of acrylic and color. We wear no more diamonds, no more gold, only ragged clothes on this trip to make it safe for us, for her, for safety.
Father's house stood as the biggest in town. The cracking door let us into its empty and hollow insides. The ceiling stood at least a hundred feet high. One long hallway divided by partitions separated the back corral, the barn, the kitchen, the living room, the small bedroom, the medium bedroom, and the primary bedroom. I often walked the hallway, looking for the closest bathroom. "Mom. Where's the bathroom?"
Mother looked down the hall from the kitchen. Father walked in with two suitcases and a truck outside running. "Placenscio found me. We got everything."
A sickly teenage boy limps towards the house, carrying more luggage than possible. His left leg hung shorter than the right. His skinny and frail body looked fragile. His parlor was pale as death itself. "Aqui tiene señor."
"Father." I walked up to him. "Where's the bathroom?" He took my hand. "Lance, Hunter. Follow me. We're going to the bathroom." He took us back to the coral. "It's here, Mijo. Pick a spot and go."
"Ewe," the three of us said in unison. "How gross." We ran to mother.
"Mom. Is he serious?" Lance asked.
Mother looked at father. Father smiled. "There’s no such thing as plumbing up in these parts of the world. We’re lucky I have running water in the kitchen.”
She hunched her shoulders and rolled her eyes. "I guess so."
The sun finally set on the horizon. Streaks of red and orange bleed through the heavens. Mother burned candles throughout the house, giving little light. She cleaned the chicken that had been killed in the coral. Preparing it with what little spices father had brought earlier in the evening. Beans and rice as side dishes, no macaroni, and cheese, no mashed potatoes, no salad or dinner rolls. Tortillas, the staple of Mexican cuisine, are all served on old china plates and chipped cups.
That night the sky was illuminated by the full moon. The stars hung so low that Hunter reached for them and almost caught them with his bare hands. “Look, mom, I can get a star.”
"Look. A UFO," Lance screamed and pointed to the sky.
"It's a falling star. Quick, make a wish." Father said.
"I want to go home." Mother wished.
At nine, mother tucked us into our cold beds. The smell of must, mold, and decay was heavy in the sheets. She walked the length of the house, starting in the kitchen, blowing the candles.
In the darkness, we heard no sounds, no cars going by, and no people next door. My ears hurt from the lack of noise. A solid buzz filled my head, giving me a headache. Lance and Hunter were just as stunned by the loud, deafening silence of this part of the world.
“Mother. My ears hurt.” Hunter held Mother tightly.
Tears welled up in her eyes. “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. I promise.”
Cows strode by the house with their strong legs hitting the dirt ground outside. An occasional moo or a coyote howling at the moon was heard. Images of cows jumping over the moon with a coyote on its heels filled my dreams that evening.
The following day our uncle took us in his new truck to a town not far away. The sun's rays filled the dusty rodeo. On horses, wild and tamed, men of all ages and sizes chased after innocent calves to their doom. My brother and I watch this with eyes wide open, as we have never seen it before. Horses, cows, and pigs were part of nursery rhymes and movies. The closest we have ever been to animals was behind large iron gates or fences at the zoo. Full-grown men in horses were chasing after small calves, grabbing their tails, and making them fall flat on their backs for sport.
The musicians played the victory song after each calf landed on its back. Teenage girls in heavy makeup and revealing dresses named queens of their respective towns sat on the main stand giving away flowers, kisses, pins, and promises of a good night to those men that made the calf fall. The smell of dirt, cows, horses, and greasy food assaulted our noses as we tried to conceal our sorrow for the innocent beaten cattle.
Horseracing through the dirt holding big fat men with their bellies pushing buttons from the shirts to the void in front of them. Young, thin and healthy men rode their prized stallions for show. They did not get their hands or expensive clothes dirty with cows. They had money, they had fame, and they had a fortune. They owned the cows and governed the fat men to do their bidding.
Boys chase after calves and poke them with sticks, making them moo. The rich men feel some of the cattle picking out the fattest ones to slaughter and cook for the evening's festivities. Trucks arrived heavily loaded with guns, others with cases of beer and liqueur.
Father held a teenage girl by his side. Her heavy makeup and skimpy clothes made her look like those women in rated R movies. I searched for her pimp and was not sure which one of them all was it. Her father came over to mine, took a roll of money from his hand, and shook it. The deal made, I had found her pimp.
Respectable women in the background were calling my father names. “A married man should be respectful.” One told my father to be careful with her. “If she gets pregnant, what are you going to do? Move her into your house? Get rid of your current wife? Kill her as you did the last one? Does she even know?”
"Viejas chimosas." Father gave the gossipy women the finger.
The women straightened up and scurried away.
Father came up to us. "Archer, Lance, and my little Hunter, I bought four horses today, and I need you to take them home."
"But father, we don't know how to ride horses," I said.
"You can't send your kids to the town on horseback. Are you crazy?" Our uncle asked.
"Mind your own business. They're my kids; I know what's best for them." He held the girl next to him, kissed her open mouth, spanked her bottom, and held her tight. "Right?"
"Si, lo que tu digas." She slurred her speech, letting him know that what he said was right.
“Placensio,” Father called out.
The sickly boy came over, his parlor pale as death itself. He should be in a hospice waiting for his pending death. Not out here in the open rodeo with four horses by his side. "Señor, here are the horses."
A lightning bolt crashed nearby, scaring the horses. "Placensio. What are you waiting for? Get these fucking kids on them and take them to my house." Father looked up to the darkening sky with engorged clouds ready to squeeze their fill onto the land. "Hurry before it rains, and you can't cross the river."
"Yes, sir." He struggled to get each one of us onto a horse. "Don't worry, they're tamed. Just let them lead. They know the way." He reassured us.
Hunter, beside himself, clapped. First time on a horse, he looked strong and confident, with no fear in his eyes.
Fear showed through Lance's behavior, gathering strength for Father’s sake. Always been Father's favorite boy of the three of us. We all knew it. Not a secret he tried to hide. Lance is the weakest one of the three. Hunter will be forever braver and courageous. Father gave Lance everything and every opportunity for him not to cry.
I did not know what to think or do. This venture was a danger, and my father knew it. I could do nothing to save us from the pending death that waited in the forest. This was his will. This was his way. If I protested a slap in the face, I would receive. A nickname I dare not repeat spitted on my face. Mother's favorite I used to be. Hunter takes so much time from her that I am happy it is that way. I can be my own. I do what I want and am who I want to be. Like Hunter once said, "Free."
Placensio, or the walking dead as I called that teenage boy, led the expedition to the unknown. Unknown to us, he and the horses knew where we were going. "It'll take us an hour to get there. Just relax and enjoy the scenery." His voice trembling with fear and embarrassment, unsure of his actions and emotions for that he did not try to conceal his fear to us or, for that matter, to his father. Even here, everyone was afraid of father.
“Drug lord kids,” they would call us behind our backs. Kids in school would not tease us for their fathers, and mothers would be sorry. Once, a boy in class pushed me during recess. His father had disappeared the next day. His mother took him out of school, and they disappeared. Mother said that they moved to Chicago for safety.
We trotted the old railroad abandoned many years before. The repeated lightning rays cast shadows on the iron tracks freed from their dirt bed and sold for scrap by the poor townspeople. The trees are bright green, and silence abounds us as if a bowl covered us. The blue and cloudy sky slowly turned grey. The light of day gently turned into twilight. The wind blew harder and colder. Mother warned us about wearing a sweater. We could barely see ahead of us. We followed Placensio to our impending doom, to our last breath of life, to our hell that father had sent us to. At least, that is what I thought. Hunter laughed and awaited the challenge of what lay ahead. "Maybe we'll see Army soldiers."
"Or Wizards," Lance yelled.
"It’s raining, it's raining." Hunter laughed aloud. "I’m getting wet. Hahaha."
"Shut up," Lance screamed, annoyed at Hunter's happiness.
"Shut up, both of you. Do you hear that?" I screamed to silence them.
Lance and Hunter both sat still in the twilight. A noise barely audibly became increasingly louder. It came from one side of the road, from the river... Unrecognizable sounds of water turbulence, braking branches, an animal's whimper, and the waves of water.
"It's the river. It is growing. It is coming down hard from the mountain and with a lot of debris. I was hoping it wouldn't be so soon." Placensio said with a trembling voice.
None of us knew what that meant. It held endless possibilities of death unimaginable. Were we in danger? Actually, heading towards our doom on this dark and wet night...? Will I ever see mother again? Will I ever go home?
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally came upon a clearing. The abandoned train depot for the town, sprawled on the hillside with its roof collapsed, half a wall missing, and five crosses in the backyard. A coal mountain stood by the side, and a tall water tower loomed rusted in the open over what would be a rail. The train motor half-buried and turned on its side, leaking oils.
The bridge that connected the town with the train station swayed in the wind, ready to tear apart and launch its wooden daggers into the air aimed at the brave.
Placensio brought us to the edge of the river. "Archer, you take the lead. Let the horse guide you. It will be safe. The water is not that high." His voice had a tremor and fear in his eyes. I knew at that moment death was imminent.
"I can't do this. Can't we wait? Leave the horses here and go over the bridge?" I asked, fearing the deadly answer. An alternative would have not been a better choice. "Or can we wait at the old toll booth by the bridge?"
A lightning ray struck close to the tollbooth, knocking what was left of its roof to the ground. The smell of ozone filled the air. "Too dangerous. The bridge is about to collapse. The winds are strong, and so is the current."
Lance started to cry... "I'm scared. I don't want to do this anymore."
Light bugs flew in front of us as if not affected by the rain. Distant sounds mixed with the thunder and lightning came from the other side. Names shouted in the darkness.
Our names are called from a distance. The lightning bugs turned into townspeople with torches coming to our rescue in the distance. A lighting ray illuminated the horizon. With her long black hair, my mother stuck to her head and ran to the river screaming in her white nightgown.
"Mother," Hunter screamed from the top of his lungs.
Mother reached the river and walked a few feet inside, screaming as if she were La Llorona herself, searching for her lost children in the river. "Hunter. Lance. Archer. I'm coming for you." She dove deeper into the swelling river. Two townsmen dragged her out of the water as she screamed for our lives. She cried for them to let her go.
"Wait. Do not cross the river. It’s too deep." The townsmen yelled to no avail, their voices drowned by the river's moans of despair and death. Placensio hit my horse on the rear, and it leaped into the water, followed by Lance's horse and then by Hunters. Hunter's cries filled the air mixing in with mothers as a chorus in anti-church asking Lucifer to help us reach our destination. I could almost hear the choir of angels coming to get us and take us to heaven.
Thunder rolled, and the rain poured harder on our fragile bodies. Our legs tired from the horses between our legs and water reaching to our waists swirling around us. The horses almost lost their footing on the riverbed. Big and small tree branches, a few dead animals, and mud swam dangerously close to us.
The horses swam through the river to the other side carrying their precious cargo to safety. A strong current made Hunter's horse lose its footing. The horse and Hunter carried down the river as he screamed, trying desperately to hold on to the horse. Placensio let go of his horse and swam after him. Mother cried in anguish at the thought of losing her baby. She threw herself in the water after him as well. This time it took four men to hold her back. No one could stop her from screaming Hunter's name. No one would think of stopping her from cursing our father.
Three horses and two boys finally made it across the roaring river. The townsmen came for us and helped Lance and me off the horses at the edge. We ran for mother. Her embrace was welcomed and much needed as our souls had a brush with death. Our brother's loss was grand, and we did not know what to say.
Lance spoke first. "Where's Hunter?"
Mother held our cold, wet bodies to her warm bosom, filled with love. "We'll find him. He'll be okay." "I hope," she whispered. She prayed as if I had never seen her before. I have never seen her on her knees praying to the heavens for salvation in all my life. We were not religious by any means. The Virgin Mary invoked; promises of a better life were made.
"Look." A woman's voice screamed over the thunder. Lighting showed where her hand pointed. One townsman walked towards us, holding a small body over his shoulder. All of us felt the terror in our mother’s eyes. "Stay here," she said. She stood up and ran after the man with the boy on his shoulder. When she reached him, the boy stood up and stretched his arms to meet his mothers. Hunter held safe in Mother’s arms once again. Lance let his breath out, and I did as well.
The town's people cheered with joy. They saved us from the river. Mother ran to us with Hunter in her arms. She took our hands. "Let's go home." She made it a point to emphasize the word home. Obviously, she did not mean her father's house in this crazy town. It implied that it was back in the States.
The next day, after a visit to the church and a large donation made for the poor, she pulled a rifle and forced our uncle to take us to the capital. We did not pack; we did not take our things. We left with only our souls saved once more. We never laid a foot in that town again. We never heard from Father after the divorce and his incarceration. We moved to a different village, not allowed to name. Our names have changed as well. Mother no longer speaks Spanish. The FBI man started dating mom, and they married soon after. My baby sister has green eyes and a cute smile like her father.
Legends abound in Mexico. People are scared of La Llorona when they go near a river or a lake. They are afraid that she may take their children and make them her own. She had killed her children when she caught her husband with another woman and drowned them in a lake.
People in Father’s village feel sorry for Placensio. A sickly teenager that physically cannot swim fights against the river’s strong currents on stormy nights, calling for Hunter. To this day, no one has found his body. No one has told his spirit that Hunter is now a grown man, without a memory of that frightful night. That summer night that he became a man. Stronger than Lance or I, fighting a war not his own in a faraway desert land under his new name, Placensio.
The Legend of Placensio
Writer’s Bloc VI – Henderson Writers Group
October 15, 2015
Word Count 3,660