Translation-Chapter 10

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 8:39 PM By crosswaysnet , In


Chapter 10 (Sunday, 2AM - Rio Grande, near Quintano, TX):

Mitch sees a group of illegal immigrants ready to cross the river. Another group prepares to ford the river, looking far more dangerous. Young, muscular and not speaking Spanish. Mitch tracks them after their coyote deposits them by the river. Soon one of the men is swept away by the current. Mitch instinctively rushes to rescue the man. He's stopped by the cries of another victim of the current - a young Mexican boy. Mitch has to make a choice. He ends up spending the night in a makeshift camp of the immigrants.

A mesquite thorn dug into his thigh. Mitch winced and spun around, dropping to one knee. He reached down and felt the tear in his trousers. The small round hole beneath was throbbing in the sharp way of thorns - on fire. He grimaced and pinched the hole. Mitch knew the bleeding would stop in about a minute.
He waited for about half that time, panting, staring straight down at the tarmac. There was no light. Must be a lull in traffic. Mitch looked up to orient himself. He couldn't see the interstate or the buzzing mercury vapor light. He turned his head the other way to find the restroom building and the abandoned car. It was too dark to see them, so he looked up.
A fuzzy, indistinct light shown directly overhead. His eyes blurred in and out trying to focus on it. Mitch was getting dizzy. He scratched with his free hand at the tarmac and came up with a handful of gravel. He tried to stand and got another jab in the back. This one didn't pierce the skin.
Where am I?...
Something was clearing overhead and Mitch saw his own shadow resolve on the ground below him. Without daring to stand again, Mitch looked back at the blur above. He saw a cloud pass and the moon emerge. It was quiet, but for the rushing of the blood in his head.
Mitch carefully explored the space around him with his hands. Every direction was thick mesquite. Carefully, he sat down on his haunches. What next?
Wait and watch.
The voice again...


***


The view through the night vision binoculars was blurry, dilated and one-dimensional. Definitely not like the movies, thought the man, disgusted. He was not sure whether to be disappointed in the binoculars, Hollywood, or both. He settled on 'both.'
"These are not worth the money we paid, Manuel." The customer pointed the rubber-cased military-issue binoculars at the guide. "I can see nothing clearly with these. I remind you we paid very well for the best service." There was menace in the voice.
The guide, an experienced Mexican Coyote, was unperturbed. "They are the very best the Norte Americanos have to offer, señor. They let you see what you need to see. And they zoom in very close." He used his own pair to scan the valley below. On the far side of the river, two small but bright green dots stood near a square vehicle, its hood also glowing. "It is a slow night señor," said the coyote, pointing with one hand slightly off to his left. "There is only one Border Patrol vehicle in sight. We move you and your friend across to the south of them and you will not be troubled."
The customer continued his grumbling at the overblown capabilities of American technology. His partner didn't share the sentiment and picked up the glasses. The younger man tried them on - bright blobs of green filled his vision. He removed the glasses and discovered the dimming switch, lowering the output slightly. He lifted them again to his eyes. Everything came into better focus and contrast. He didn't bother to tell his more senior comrade. The man was always arrogant and insufferable. So proud and so easily defeated by simple technology. The younger man smiled to himself.
A gust of wind came up from behind the three men and rolled down the hillside toward the Rio Grande. A flash of lightning high on the range of mountains behind them was greatly amplified by the binoculars, temporarily blinding the viewers.
"We must be cautious, señor," said the coyote, while the other man rubbed his eyes and blinked hard. "These are useful, but not for long periods. Lightning is a danger, both to you and the equipment. We must rely on our own eyes to get us where we are going." He tapped his cheekbones with two fingers for emphasis.
The older man retrieved a pack from the tailgate of the old Ford Bronco and stepped around to the front of the vehicle, staring at the other two.
"Where do you think you are going, señor?" said the coyote.
"We have waited long enough. You are paid to get us into the United States. You are not paid for sightseeing."
The moonlight flashed in the Mexican's dark eyes. "We go when I say 'go,' señor. Not before. My people are paid to get you into the United States alive. I do my job; you get to do yours. Do not cross me."
The customer shrugged and started down the trail. "We can take care of ourselves."
The younger man sighed and picked up his pack. "I am sorry for my friend. He is anxious. But you still have a job to do, coyote. Get us to the pick up point or your people will pay dearly." The tone was polite but the threat was clear.
The coyote stood in front of his truck, seething. He finally kicked himself away from the grill when the second man was ten paces ahead. "Dogs you may be, but you are no coyotes," he muttered to himself. They could both just step into a rattlesnake nest for all he cared.


***


Mitch heard the low rumble of the engine a minute before the old brakes had squealed to a stop, not ten yards from his hiding place. He did not recognize the first voice or the accent. The second had the rich, staccato rhythm of a northern Mexican who had learned his English on the streets. Probably a coyote hired to smuggle the other two. It didn't add up for Mitch. Who were these two customers talking down to their guide? In English? Why did they need to be smuggled in like economic refugees?
The sounds of zippers and Velcro were followed by crunching gravel. The three were on the move. Mitch lay flat on his belly, his left cheek and chin pressing into the ground. In this position he was able to peer through the lowest, thickest branches. The clouds cleared again as the wind picked up slightly. The moonlight caught the chrome - what was left of it - on the old Bronco. Mitch could see the last man kick away from the vehicle and follow the other two. Their path took them right past his hiding place. The first one walked noisily, scuffling along in boots either too heavy, too large or too unbroken. He kicked up pebbles that stirred up something a few feet in front of Mitch's face. A long, black shadow started to twist his way. Over the mound of sand came the unmistakable face and flicking tongue of a grand-daddy rattler, avoiding the raucous stomping of the boots in front of it.
The breath caught in Mitch's throat as he realized he was laying right in the snake's path. Now that he was noticing it, a smooth, shallow depression in the sand directly ahead told him that snake came this way often. There was nowhere to move, much less run.
The snake stopped two feet from Mitch's face, the tongue tasting the air between them. It turned its head slightly, giving its heat-sensing pits a better view of the creature ahead. The large, warm object didn't move. The wind changed and drew the air away and over the unexpected obstacle. The tongue tasted nothing but empty wind.
Mitch remained rock-still, not breathing. His lungs began to notice. Mitch watched the snake raise its head slightly, trying to decide where to go. A dappled glint of moonlight shone off its black eyes.
With the wind steady in Mitch's face, the snake finally decided to make its way past the strange, glowing rock. The base of its throat crossed Mitch's left arm above the elbow. He could feel the creature breath as its weight slithered across his long-sleeved twill shirt. Five feet later, the rattle softly shuffled past his ear. A few seconds after that, the rattle tapped Mitch's shoe and the danger was gone. Mitch could feel the grit of sand hitting his teeth as he finally sucked in a deep breath.
I have got to get out of here, thought Mitch as the chill after adrenaline began to course through his veins. But which way? The only path out seemed to be the way the snake came in. Mitch willed himself flat as a pancake and started to creep himself forward. With his head to his side he couldn't see ahead. He used his finger tips, gathered in front, to feel his way forward. He lifted his elbows as high as he could, rowing them like oars. His toes pushed from behind.
Mitch made progress, and paid for it. His shirt was being shredded by the solid, unbending thorns. With three feet to go, one particularly long thorn didn't stop at the shirt and began pressing into the soft flesh to the left of his neck. He could go no lower. He tried backing up; moving to the side slightly. Every move just snagged more of his clothing on something. He was stuck.
Which way out? Mitch tried to lay still and relax. What do I do?
Are you afraid of the pain? It was the voice again. Mitch was silent for a while. So was the voice.
Which way do I go? Mitch asked himself again, but something - someone else - was answering.
Do you fear the pain?
Mitch could sense the panic rising up within. The image of the tinman, mired in barbed wire, came to him. The tinman trembled as he flailed against the wire, tightening the knots around his arms and legs. The thundering sound of the dragon was drawing near. Every joint of the tinman clattered with fear.
It doesn't matter - I want a way OUT!
Reach forward and pull...
Mitch scratched forward with his right hand and found the trunk of a mesquite. The thorn was biting into his flesh with the special kind of fire reserved to these survivors of the desert. He pulled against the mesquite as the thorn popped all the way through his skin. Mitch groaned slightly through a tightly shut mouth. He tried to run his left hand back over his head to break off the thorn. He just managed to push the branch with the back of his hand, driving in the thorn farther. Mitch feared his tormentor could be as long as a nail. He pulled again with his right hand - more pain, no progress.
This isn't going to work.
Silence, then You need both hands...
Mitch's left arm was pinned by the branch and the thorn of death.
I can't.
The only way out is through.
Mitch forced his left arm forward, finding another mesquite trunk. The thorn went down, down. Mitch felt a flash of pain as the hot needle hit a nerve. He gritted his teeth. You need to get out, Mitch.
The pain had reached a point where his mind was suddenly clear and focused. He steadily and forcefully pulled himself forward with both arms. He felt the thorn begin to push out the skin farther down his back from the inside. His fists were nearly level with his shoulders.
Mitch took two long, steady breaths and pulled as far as he could in his position. With a strange release of endorphins, the thorn broke through his skin and the fire lessened. The ground in front of him was falling away slightly, giving him more room to maneuver. The thorn broke free from its branch, becoming a part of Mitch. He kicked and scrambled out into the clear moonlight.


***


The small group of migrants huddled together within sight of the Rio Grande. It was beginning to rain. Pedro, the oldest and the loneliest, look up at the mountains to the south and west. More flashes of lightning backlit the ominous clouds. He could see the sheets of Spring rain shrouding the summits. He knew that meant flooding down low. There was no time to lose.
"We must go now," he urged his nephew.
The younger man was not so certain - the dark waters looked foreboding. What little light there was kept getting snuffed out by fast-moving clouds. The ripples of water in front of them looked dark enough without the missing moon. Manuel looked at his young wife - terrified and ashen. His son just looked sleepy. Seven-year-olds never worry, thought the young father. But there is much to worry about....
If it were not for desperation, they would not be standing on this sandy, wind-whipped hill facing the biggest obstacle of their lives. But no work had made them hungry. Very. The threats of the drug mafia in their home town of Chihuahua had made them very motivated. Manuel had tried to get one thug out of their barrio, trusting that at least one good cop would keep the strung-out knife-wielding waste of a man away from their children.
There were no good cops.
All it took was one more bribe-taking pencil-pusher in the administration office and the mafia had their name. So much for anonymous tips. He was given twenty four hours to disappear. The message came via brickmail through his bedroom window.
So here, five days later, stood Manuel Vega, Jr., his pregnant wife, seven-year-old son and his father's youngest brother. Five days of hard travel, mostly on foot. Now they were standing on the edge of hope - and disaster. His wife was now shaking. He moved closer to hold her shoulders.
"I can't, Manuel. I just can't..." The sobs shook the tears off her round, chocolate cheeks, paler than usual from the moonlight and her fear. He stood tall, trying to be the man.
"Angel, we will make it. We must. Trey knows we will. He deserves to have a chance." He placed his hand gently on her belly. "Dos deserves a chance, too." He lowered his hand and stared across the river to the steady lights of ranches, farms and towns far off. The lights of prosperity. Of safety.
"God does not forget His children, Angel... Pedro knows the way. He has come through here before. We simply need to follow - and believe." Manuel pushed on with determination. His wife stumbled on in shock. They drew close to the bank and stopped.
"Do you see those ripples, Manu?" Pedro pointed out a section of the river where it started to bend to the left. "It is fast, there, but shallow. It is not impossible, but there are many sinkholes. You must follow me step for step. If I go down, I know how to swim. And you will know where not step..." Manuel nodded and grabbed his wife's hand. They scurried down the riverbank quickly to avoid being seen from the other side.


***


The coyote hurried in front of the impatient man and threw his arm out to stop him. "Listen!" he spat out in a whisper. The portly man who had once been angular ran smack into the outstretched arm. He had a mind to cut it off. Then he heard something - a voice. Calling out in distress, perhaps.
"There are others coming across tonight," said the coyote, mentally kicking himself for not detecting them earlier. Mr. Loudboots was undoubtedly to blame for it, but it was still unnerving to be this close to discovery, no matter who they were. "We must move downstream a little. I know of another place." The coyote darted to his right and disappeared into a tall stand of blooming huisache.


***


"Ah!" called out Angel. "It is so cold!... I cannot. I cannot..." They were up to their knees in the fast-flowing stream. Manuel held her while she sobbed some more. "Only a few steps and we are free, my love. Hold on to me." He had nothing to warm her with, save his love and determination. Pedro held out the group's small pack of supplies in front of him as he led the way. Trey followed, splashing his way forward, trying not to fall on his face. Manuel faced forward and took a step. Angel did not follow. She was frozen in place; her face unmoving in shock; her eyes wide.
"I can... cannot."
"You must." Manuel pulled harder and his wife fell forward, up to her waist in the water. She started to scream. Manuel seized her around the waist with his left arm and covered her mouth with his right hand. He carried her forward until her feet found the wet stones again and she attempted to bear her own weight. They were not making much progress. Manuel was beginning to get cold himself, the wet from Angel's clothing soaking his. He needed to get his family across quickly, and there was a hundred meters or more to go.
Flashes from up the mountain lit the river in severe shadows. Rumbles could now be heard. Pedro waved at them to hurry. Manuel looked down as the first big drops began to hit the water. There was something else - the river was rising.


***


The coyote dropped to one knee and stared across the river with the night vision goggles. The lightning flashes caught his eyes at just the wrong time. He cursed and threw them down, green and pink spots dancing around the inside of his eyelids. At least he had had time to survey the American side of the river. No sign of patrols. He continued to rub his eyes while he spoke. He could hear the sound of the river changing slightly.
"This is where we cross. There is no time to lose. If we wait any longer, it will be another day before you cross, amigos." He plowed ahead into the water. Normally, this is where he would stop. But he did not trust these inept travelers from the other side of the world. They would perish without him. If they perished, he would too. Simple as that.


***


Mitch saw his shadow dance around on the ground as the lightning flashed behind him. His sweat fell with the large drops of rain to stain the ground at his feet. He took a deep breath and reached up with his right hand across his body. He held the thick thorn down tight and bent the stub until the button snapped off. He pushed the remainder forward until he could grip it from the other side. His fingers could barely seize the sharp tip as he started to pull. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he pulled. The bloody wood fell to the ground behind him. Mitch could feel a trickle run down his back. He took another deep breath - and got moving.


***


Pedro retraced his steps and reached for the boy. His little legs were sliding out from under him. There was panic in his eyes. "Don't be afraid, little hero." Pedro smiled at his great nephew. "Here, you ride on Tio Pedro's shoulders." It was a messy affair, but Pedro managed to get under way with the boy's legs hugging his neck. He pushed on.
Behind him, he could hear Manuel urging his wife onward. No time to waste on their problems, Pedro. Get the boy to shore safe - then help them. He heard the sound of alarm from Manuel first. He did not see the log until it side-swiped him. It knocked him over, spinning him around below the boy. He gripped Trey's hand with all his might as he sank, his knees hitting stones three feet down, the Rio Grande now rushing into his right ear.


***


Mitch reached the bank to see the three men running through the shallows as fast as the current would allow. He could see the river rising around them. More flashes illuminated the huge Spring raindrops before they hit the surface of the water. He saw something else. A large, black rolling mass was carried along in the stream. It rolled over with a crunch, a branch and the root ball shooting up out of the water a few yards upstream from the three men. They had heard the crash and were staring at it. The tree was heading directly for the third man. Mitch watched as he dove over a rocky outcropping to avoid being smashed. Mitch wasted not a moment longer and threw himself into the rising torrent.


***


"Pedro! NO!!!" the mother was screaming as she watched the log roll over her son and uncle. The cottonwood teeter-tottered its way downstream. Angel's eyes were glued on where her son had been. He was not there now. Her arm was yanked around as her husband drug her even faster. He was not gentle with his grip on her. He had no intention of losing her as well.
Pedro brought the boy up, sputtering, from their fall. He struggled to get both feet back on solid stones. The water was pulling harder than ever. He could hear his nephew drawing close, calling to the son to hang on.


***


The log met the outcropping with sudden and convincing force. The third man had made it around to safety - almost. With a cry of frustration and pain, the log pinned his left leg to the rock and stayed there, rocking in the current. The flow swirled under the log and back up over his head. He came up for a few breaths, each one harder than the last. His companions were nowhere to be seen.
Mitch reached him as his head disappeared for the tenth time. A sinewy left hand was clawing at the log, not finding anything to hold. It tried to push instead. The hand was getting weak.
Mitch pulled himself up on the rock. The log was tending toward the center of the stream. If it rolled that direction, it would crush the man. He reached for the hand and pulled until the head came up out of the flood. The eyes rolled forward and registered. The man came alive again and panicked. He clawed at Mitch's arm with both hands. Mitch sat back and held on.


***


Manuel was almost to his son. Pedro took a step his way, lifting Trey over his head at the same time. He didn't feel the sinkhole until the rest of him had followed his right leg down another four feet. He lost his grip on the boy.


***


What do I do now? Mitch's legs were starting to shake and his back was cramping. The log shifted slightly and the man cried out in pain. His dark eyes were boring a hole in Mitch's skull. Don't let me die this way, they silently screamed.
I can't save him, Mitch thought, despairing. Then he heard something. Like the shrill cry of a hawk. No, that's not it... it's a scream. A very human cry. Mitch looked upstream and saw a commotion in the distance. There were others in the river. A woman was screaming.
Mitch saw something bobbing in the water coming his way. Then he saw an arm flail. A small arm. With horror, Mitch realized it was a child. Heading to his left, around the outcropping on which he sat. The log shifted again, and the man screamed in agony. His nails were biting into Mitch's forearm. He was slipping down.
What do I do???
Make a choice... said the voice.
HOW??
Mitch looked down at the desperate man, feeling his own shoulder start to give. The fear and anger in the eyes facing him were intense. He looked back over his shoulder to see the small person rapidly approaching. Another flash of lightning and the clearing moon showed the face of a young boy.
Mitch started to loosen his grip on the man, releasing him to the waters. He watched as the victim started to get sucked under again. In a flash of hatred the stranger howled out "NO!!!" refusing to give up his lifeline. His fingers clamped down like claws, ready to break the skin on Mitch's forearm.
I've made my choice, pleaded Mitch. How do I break free?
The drowning man, so surprisingly strong in his desperation, willed this unknown person to obey him. Suddenly, there were three of them, two bright as the sun and holding flaming swords, surrounded in a cloud like wings. They held the smaller man's shoulders tightly. The sight repulsed him and he shrank from it. He let go. The three men disappeared. He lifted his head one more time to see another set of wings, these dark as night, blotting out the moon. They descended on him as the log shifted one more time, rolling over him like so much debris, pushing him to the bottom of the river.


***


Mitch rolled off the rock into the water and seized the boy by the sodden hood of his sweatshirt. He slipped his other arm under the boy's and pulled his head above the flow. He rolled on his back and started pulling them both across the current as much as possible. Going back was now impossible. Mitch continued to drift with the boy on his chest across numerous sandbars, water moving fast enough to prevent them from standing up. Close to the far bank they entered a slower eddy, and Mitch pulled the boy into the marshy reeds, holding them both there while he drank in great breaths of air down to his very soul.
Before his muscles locked up completely, Mitch pushed down his feet into the silt of the river bank and dragged the boy up on the shore. The child was shaking uncontrollably. Mitch found the will to pick him up and carry him upriver. For what seemed an hour, he stumbled along deer trails, not knowing where he was headed. Just hoping there was someone to collect this terrified child.
What do I do?
Keep walking, said the voice.
The child began to call out for his momma. His little hands clutched Mitch's collar as he sobbed.
The body gave out before the will; Mitch's knees buckling just as two compact and dark-skinned men burst through the brush, hollering something. A boy's name. Trey. They met Mitch at a full run, almost tripping over them both. He placed the boy in their arms and fell to the ground. The rain pelted Mitch's face as he watched the men weep in relief over the boy.
He sank to the grass beside the sandy trail and passed out.

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