She rode a white stallion naked down the center of South Las Vegas Boulevard like some modern-day Lady Godiva. Before the revolution it was known as the Vegas strip, now it was little more than rubble. Twenty-five years prior the revolution had started right here, in this city, on this day. As leader, her legend had grown to myth. It was even rumored she could control time, as proof, she was as beautiful today as she was when it began.
She rode to the side of the road and dismounted in front of a young man. The entire procession stopped. The man knelt before her.
“Stand,” she said.
The man remained kneeling, staring down at her feet. She bent over and placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Stand and look at me.”
He stood and slowly raised his head but could not bring himself to look her in the eyes.
“Santa Muerte,” he said.
“What is your name?”
“Xavier, you are about to become the most important man in the revolution, because you are about to become the man to rescue me from the desert twenty-five years ago and set me on my path.”
She caressed his cheek, held his chin in her hand and brought his face level with hers. She stared into his eyes.
“They say the eyes are the window onto the soul,” she said. “Do you believe that?”
“Yes, ma’am I do.”
“Then tell everyone what you see when you look into my eyes.”
That was the man’s last clear memory before his madness. She leaned into him as if to kiss him. She placed her mouth over his left eye and quickly sucked the eyeball from its socket, spit it out and left it dangling and bouncing by its optic nerve across his bloody cheek. Time froze. Nobody reacted, not even the man. She performed the same surgery to his right eye and then stepped back to view her work.
Chaos, disjointed images, her breasts, his cheek, the road, his mustache, the beak of a great bird, darkness, madness all flashed through the man’s mind.
A great golden eagle swooped down from the sky and landed on his head. Its talons embedding deep into his scalp. As the blood poured down from his head, the eagle’s curved beak plucked the man’s dangling eyes clean from their nerve fibers and flew high into the sky, the eyeballs wedged into its beak. The man still dreams of flight, of being that great bird, looking down onto the scene below at the pathetic man pooled in blood, driven insane.
Santa Muerte turned to the crowd. “You have just witnessed the making of a great man, a true hero. Do not help him. Do not touch him, do not give him aid. He needs to complete his preordained journey on his own. He will suffer madness, but do not feel sorry for him, because he will be remembered for eternity.
“Repeat his name, Xavier Mendez. Tell everyone that Xavier Mendez is the man that rescues me from the desert and brings me to Las Vegas to begin the revolution. Make him part of the myth. Make him a legend.”
The man wandered for days, eventually finding refuge in a cave in the desert. There he contemplated his madness, trying to discern sanity from insanity. Nothing was the same, yet patterns emerged from the chaos, patterns much different than those of his previous life. Sounds were different, movements seemed awkward, cause and effect traded places.
He experienced a full stomach which led to movement in his throat and the emergence of meat in his mouth which he carefully took out and placed on a rock. With the flick of his pocket knife he reattached the piece of meat to a large dead snake lying on the rock. After a moment he reattached the snake’s head in a similar manner and the snake hissed a strange his and slithered away from the man.
He began to understand his new reality. He ventured out of his cave, walking in an odd backward motion and arrived at the edge of the city. He sat on the sidewalk and listened. He listened the people as they walked passed, speaking their strange, backward language. Over time he began to understand this language and was even able to speak a few halted words. Realizing what his world had become he retreated to his cave in fear and confusion. He contemplated this reality for many seasons, trying to understand all its implications. He came to realize that in the madness created from Santa Muerte and the great eagle, his understanding of cause and effect became reversed. He reasoned he no longer had free will, if he ever had it at all. He had no control over the effects that he experienced as the cause came subsequent.
He stared down at his boots, covered in red Georgia clay. He remembered shining them the previous morning, putting on his best suit, tying his black tie. He remembered other things about the day, things he spent last night with a bottle trying to forget. He held his head in his hands for a long time, then he pulled up his mud stained pantleg and removed the flask from his boot and took a long drink.
The rain splattered against the bus window. He watched the wet, gray landscape pass by. The smell of disinfectant permeated the seats and invaded his nose. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a Greyhound ticket stub with Los Angeles printed on it. “Shit, why would I want to go to California? They’re all crazy or queer out there,” he said to himself.
He closed his eyes; He remembered the funeral, and the looks and accusations whispered behind his back – petty people with petty gossip.
The bus came to a stop. He opened his eyes to see a very pregnant young woman walking down the aisle toward him. “Damned illegal aliens and their anchor babies,” he said, not loud enough for her to hear.
“May I sit here?” She asked as she sat down next to him in the back row. He listened for an accent but found none.
“It’s a free country.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I hate taking buses, they’re usually filled with such crazies.”
“Sorry, I’m not calling you crazy, except that shiner does raise questions.”
“Well, I could say the same about you. How’d you get yours?”
“I was hoping my makeup would hide it. I guess not. That was my ex’s handiwork. He found out I was leaving. He’s really not a good man.”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Los Angeles, evidently. Where are we now?”
“You originally from Texas?”
“Is that your bad attempt at asking me if I’m an illegal?”
He turned and looked at her. Her green eyes, even with the days’ old shiner, captivated him. He smiled.
“Not the first time I’ve been asked. I’m a Tejano. My family’s been here longer than Texas has been a state, even longer than Mexico’s been a country.”
“Guess I’ve been told.”
“Didn’t mean it to come across that way. It’s just I hear the question a lot lately. This country is growing meaner and I’m getting sick of dealing with it every day.”
“Not sure what’s happening to this country. It sure lost its civility. Damn liberals ruin everything.”
“Let’s not talk politics.”
“Agreed. Politicians are just a bunch of crooks anyway.”
“So why are you headed to LA?”
“Damned if I know. I guess it’s more a case of running away from Georgia than heading to LA.”
“Seems like everyone’s running from something,” she replied.
“That is true,” he said, drinking the last of the bourbon.
He stood up and headed toward the restroom. The washroom smelled of stale piss. The toilet was backed up and filled with vomit. He added his piss to the mess, then he looked at himself in the mirror. He had a shiner on his right eye along with a bit of a fat lip. He washed up the best he could in the dirty, cramped quarters.
As he walked back from the restroom he took a closer look at the girl. She looked to be around twenty at the oldest. She had long dark hair and her petite body was straining against her very pregnant stomach.
“I apologize for my bad manners, bit of a rough night. My name’s Jeff Davis.”
“I’m Ana Maria. Nice to meet you Jeff Davis.”
“When are you due?”
“Last week. My little boy’s as stubborn as his father.”
“Well, you look great.”
“I feel like I’m about to explode.”
“So why are you traveling in this condition?”
“I had to leave. Between my father and my ex, it wasn’t safe.”
They sat in silence for a while. She leaned her head against his shoulder.
“You’re a good man, I can tell,” she said quietly.
“No, no I’m not,” he replied. She didn’t hear him. She was already asleep.
Her head rested against his shoulder. He covered her up with his jacket and let her sleep. She woke as the bus came to a stop at a roadside diner and the driver announced a thirty-minute stopover.
“Rest stop. You hungry?” He said as she looked at him with tired eyes.
“Starving. Where are we?”
“My guess is about half way between Dallas and El Paso. Come on, let’s eat.”
They sat in a small booth at the back of the diner. The waitress came and took their order. Ana excused herself and went to the restroom. By the time she got back, their food had arrived.
“You ok?” He asked.
“Just a little pain.”
“Shit. Ok, let’s get you to a hospital.”
“No, it’s still early. I think it’s going to be a while before the baby comes. Let’s just eat.”
He stared at her as he ate his hamburger. She was picking at her food. “I’m just not hungry. You can have mine if you want,” she said.
The bus driver announced to the diner that the bus would be leaving in five minutes. Jeff Davis got up to pay the bill. While standing at the cash register, he looked back to see Ana Maria doubled over in pain. He handed the cashier the bill and a twenty and quickly went back to the table.
“You in labor?”
“These pains will pass. Come on or we’ll miss the bus.”
He held out his hand to help her up. She squeezed it hard as another wave of pain gripped her.
“I don’t think I can get up right now. Go. You’ll miss the bus. I’ll be fine in a few minutes”
“Shit, I can’t just leave you here.”
He looked towards the window as he heard the bus pulling out. He squatted down on his boots and looked her in the eye. “Like it or not, you ain’t gonna get rid of me that easy. Now come on and tell me what I can do to help.”
An older gentleman in a large Stetson got up from an adjacent table and walked over to the couple. He wore ornately stitched cowboy boots, a black suit, white shirt, and a bolo tie with a turquoise stone.
“Do you two need any help? I’m not a doctor or anything, but I have birthed a few calves. Not that I’m comparing you to a heifer, ma’am, just saying the concept is pretty much the same.”
“Thanks, sir, we can use the help. I don’t think either of us know what we’re doing.”
Ana sat up. “I think I’m ok now.”
“Let’s get out of this diner and away from all these peering eyes,” the old man suggested.
They walked out into the parking lot to the side of the diner where the old man led them toward a big black ’71 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.
“My name’s Marcus Crow. Some people call me Tex, and who do I have the privilege of meeting on this fine Texas day?”
“Jeff Davis. Jefferson Davis Calhoun, sir.”
“Call me Tex. And you, young lady?”
“Ana Maria Mendez.”
“A pretty name for a pretty lady. Do you feel like we should be getting you to a hospital, Ana?”
“No sir, I’m doing much better now.”
“Where are you two headed?”
“Vegas,” Ana responded.
“My destination as well. I’d appreciate some company if you two cared to join me.”
“Thank you, we’d love that.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and lie down in the back, so your boyfriend can examine you quick.”
“I’m not her boyfriend, Tex. We just me on the bus.”
“Oh. Then this might be a bit awkward. One of us has to see how dilated she is. Ana, would you be comfortable if Jeff Davis here checked on your dilation?”
“What the hell? I told you, I’m fine.”
“Well that may be, but I’m on a tight schedule. If you go with me to Vegas, I can’t be detouring out of my way to find you a hospital. Once we start, I need to be confident we get to Vegas by tomorrow. If you like, I can call you two a cab instead.”
She looked at Tex then she looked at Jeff Davis. “Well Jeff, looks like you’re about to get lucky.”
“Ok then, lie down in the back seat. Jeff Davis, you get in there and help her.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” said Jeff Davis.
“I’ll walk you through it. Basically, you’re going to put two fingers into Ana’s vagina and feel for her cervix. When you find it, you are going to see how many fingers fit in the opening.”
Jeff Davis looked at Ana. His face was blushing. “You sure you’re ok with me doing this?” Ana nodded in response.
“OK, let’s get this done.”
Once they determined that she was barely one centimeter dilated, they agreed to drive west to Vegas. Tex was behind the wheel, Jeff Davis rode shotgun, and Ana stretched out across the back seat.
“If you got cell phones, turn ‘em off. Don’t want the CIA following us,” Tex said.
Tex pulled out a bottle of bourbon from under the driver’s seat and took a long draw from the bottle then passed it over to Jeff Davis.
“What’s your story?” Tex asked.
A blank stare was his response.
“Come on. Everyone’s got a story, especially a man in his Sunday best on a Wednesday afternoon, drunk, nursing a shiner and helping out a pretty young chica he’s barely met.”
Jeff Davis shook his head and took another sip from the bottle. “It’s a long story.”
“Got nothing but miles of road in front of us.”
“I buried my son yesterday.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“He was barely sixteen. Died of an oxycodone overdose. I was so blind to it all, I didn’t even know he was on drugs.
“I’m a shit dad. Ever since the divorce I never spent enough time with him. We stopped going hunting and fishing. He never wanted to go, so I just stopped asking. I should’ve been asking what’s going on in his life, but I didn’t. I was too caught up on my own shit. Now he’s dead.”
“Damn son, that’s tough.”
“And the shiner? I barely remember it. Got in a drunk bar fight just to blow off some steam. Then
I woke up on a bus. I don’t even remember buying the ticket.”
“And that’s how you and Ana met up?”
“And it was love at first sight.”
“No sir. She’s not exactly my type.”
“Ah, you mean her skin’s a little too dark for you. Well then I’m impressed that your chivalry outshone your bigotry, but you’re telling me you don’t find her the least bit attractive? Even with that baby about to bust out, she’s mighty fine. Even a randy old goat like myself wouldn’t mind getting her alone for a bit.”
“I’m not interested. Just bein’ a good Samaritan.”
“Uh huh. Sorry, but that dog don’t hunt.”
“You like guns?”
“Ever fire an AR-15?”
“Couple times. My buddy’s got one. Used it to hunt hogs on occasion. They’re pretty sweet. Killed four hogs running down a trail straight at us once. Damn those things had big tusks. Dropped all four, one shot each.”
“Ever shoot anything larger?”
“Fully automatic AK-47.”
“You want to?”
“Hell ya. You got one?”
“In the trunk.”
That night they detoured off their route and headed off down a desolate county road into the desert. Tex pulled off onto the berm and stopped behind a clump of creosote bushes. The three got out and stretched their legs. Jeff Davis brought the bottle of bourbon while Tex popped the trunk. There was a large crate in the center and the rest of the trunk was stuffed full with boxes of ammunition. Tex used his pocket knife to remove the lid exposing a crate full of AK-47’s. He removed one and handed it to Jeff Davis. “You take this, and I’ll bring along some ammo. Let’s go raise a little hell.”
Ana shook her head. “I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll just stay here.”
“Ok, we shouldn’t be long,” said Tex. A few minutes later she heard the cartridges explode from the gun and rattle off rocks in the distance. She listened to the men laugh. They were out playing with their toy longer than she had hoped. She took the opportunity to sneak into the bushes to pee. When she was done, the men were walking back to the car.
“You boys have fun?” She asked as she watched them put the rifle back in the crate and close the trunk.”
“Hell ya,” said Jeff Davis.
“I’ll take a shift at driving,” Jeff said. “You get some rest.”
The following afternoon they were headed into Las Vegas.
“You a big gambler or you just going to Vegas for the showgirls?” Jeff Davis asked.
“This trip is pure business, son. I can tell you big changes are coming to America.”
Tex dropped Jeff Davis and Ana off at a motel toward the outskirts of town. Before they got out of the car, Tex handed them two passes for a country music festival playing there that weekend.
“I’m going to be tied up in business meetings all weekend. I hope you two enjoy them. Maybe the music will help the baby decide to come out into the world.”
“Thanks for everything, Tex. We greatly appreciate it.” They shook hands and gave hugs before he got back in his Cadillac and drove to his hotel on the strip.
As he drove away, Ana said, “That man’s crazy. What kind of man drives around with a trunk full of weapons like that? Do you think he’s mafia or something?”
“Crazy, yes. Mafia, no. That man’s harmless. All hat no cattle.”
The two men removed the burlap sack from her head but continued to hold her arms. She stood in front of their boss. They spoke in Spanish.
“So, you’re Gordo’s sister. You know he brags about your beauty, and your chastity. By the time you leave this room, there’ll be nothing left for him to brag about.”
“I long ago disowned my brother. He’s a drug running scum, just like yourself.”
“Now, now. Don’t badmouth the cartels. We are the new rulers of Mexico. You should learn to treat us better.”
“Leave us alone,” he said to the other two men. “I want to get to know Gordo’s lovely sister. Lock the door on your way out. I don’t want any interruptions.”
She stood alone before him. He walked around her, examining her as if she was his property. She stood proudly, defiantly, not letting him intimidate her.
“Strip,” he said.
She looked at him but didn’t move. He slapped her hard across the face. She spat at him. He ripped her blouse.
“Bitch, you decide how you want to do this. You can either relax and enjoy it, or I will rape you. Either way, you will be my whore by the time I’m done with you.”
She stepped back and removed her blouse, and then her bra. She knelt down in front of him and unzipped his fly.
“Wise decision, whore.”
She undid his belt buckle and slid his pants down around his ankles. She took his member in her hands and began fellating him. As he grew more aroused he became distracted. She carefully felt along the front of his pants until she found the pocket knife she had noticed clipped inside his front right pocket. She opened the blade and brought it up against his scrotum. With his member still in her mouth, she pulled the knife up hard across it, cutting through half his erect penis in one motion. She quickly finished the job with a second downward slice. Blood spurted across her face and chest as the man screamed a high-pitched catlike torment. From outside the door, his men heard it, and assumed it to be the girl. The girl shoved his now limp phallus in his mouth to stop his screaming. He fell to the floor doubled over in pain. She walked over to the bar and grabbed a bottle of tequila, took a sip to wash out her mouth, then she spit it on him. She emptied the remainder of the bottle on him, and grabbed the cigar lighter sitting on his desk.
She pulled him up by the back of his shirt, the knife wedged against his back. Together they walked toward the door. As he unlocked it, she lit him on fire and pushed him through the doorway. The men sitting outside his room jumped as their boss ran screaming from the room. They tried to put out the fire. She ran through the front door and out into the street, bare from the waist up and covered in blood. She disappeared through the back alleys of Guadalajara.
Her brother opened the door that night to see his sister covered in blood, an old blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
“Bastard,” she said as she pushed past him into his small house.
“Zandra, what the hell?”
“What have you done to el Chango that he tried to rape me today?”
“Nothing. I stay away from him. He’s crazy.”
“Don’t tell me that. You did something. I’ve looked past your drugs and crime. All I’ve asked is that you leave me out of your life. You can’t even do that. Now I’m going to die. You have to get me out of here. Now.”
“Don’t worry about Chango, I’ll take care of him.”
“No, you’re not listening. I don’t want you to take care of him. I need you to get me out of here, and not just out of the state. I need out of this country. You need to get me to the U.S., and I need to leave tonight. By morning I’ll be dead if I’m still here.”
That night she was in a car headed north. Two days later she entered the Sonoran Desert at Sonoyta on the Mexican side of the border. Her brother had paid a trafficker good money to arrange a special, solo trip for his sister. The trafficker paid the coyote in advance, so the coyote had no incentive to get Zandra safely across the border. An hour into the trip, he abandoned her just shy of the border. Zandra continued on alone through the unfamiliar desert, determined to start her new life in America.
It was dark in the desert night, still hours before dawn. The blind old man leaned against the pickup truck staring off to the east. The driver was a young man. He sat scanning his smart phone. They were parked on the side of the Ajo Sonoita highway just north of the Mexican border in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
“Never did ask your name,” said the old man.
“It’s Apache. It means poet. So, what’s yours?”
“Xavier Mendez, but I haven’t been called that in years.”
“Oh ya, what do people call you?”
“They don’t. Mostly people do their best to avoid me. Smells like rain is coming.”
“Hasn’t rained here in over a month, old man.”
“She’ll be here shortly.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I know the future.”
“Right, old man. You’re some kind of shaman that can see the future.”
“Didn’t say that. Said I know the future. It’s the past I don’t know.”
“Whatever you say. You’ve paid me enough that I’ll sit here all day if you want.”
“Put down your phone, get out of the truck, come over here and look for her. I’m blind remember?”
Eknath climbed out of the truck and stood next to the old man. Clouds blotted out the stars and the moon. He could barely see a few feet in front of him. A bolt of lightning cracked off in the distance against the indigo sky followed by thunder rippling across the silent desert night. The next crack of lightning was closer with the thunder chasing closely behind. On the third flash, the thunder arrived in a cracking roar at the same instant as the lightning flashed. The body of a naked woman was briefly bathed in pale blue light.
“Stay right here old man, there’s a woman walking towards us. She looks in rough shape. I’m going to go help her. You get the water jug out of the back.”
She was naked, her skin burnt black and leathery by the sun. Her breasts were shriveled from dehydration. Her body was scraped from ironwood and mesquite. Cactus spines stuck to her skin. Her bare feet were bruised and bloody. Her long black hair was caked with thick layers of salt from dried sweat. Eknath picked her up in his arms, carried her back to the truck and placed her in the middle of the front bench seat. The old man got in next to her. A patch of rust fell from the passenger door as the Eknath closed it before coming around to the driver side. He started the truck and turned the air conditioner to high. The old man was already pouring water across her parched, cracked lips and onto her swollen tongue. She pushed the old man’s arms upward to get more water. She threw up blood and water across the dashboard, then resumed drinking.
They drove to an old motel outside of Ajo where the old man had rented a room. During the entire drive the woman spoke incoherently of saints and devils, of the beginning and the end. She said she had seen eternity, witnessing the birth of the world, and its end. She claimed to be Santa Muerte incarnate and to have battled the devil in the desert. She claimed to have wandered the desert for forty days. For six days the old man nursed her back to health, on the seventh, he called the young Apache to come pick them up. It was time to complete their journey.
The young woman wore a loose-fitting white cotton dress and canvas sneakers as she climbed into the truck between the two men. Her body was beginning to heal.
“Where to, boss?” The young man asked.
“Las Vegas,” replied the old man.
“Today I am born,” the old man continued.
The young man shot him an odd look. “Are you some kind of born-again Christian?”
“No, today I am born.”
“You mean it’s your birthday.”
“It is the day of my birth, and the year.”
The young man looked at him but didn’t respond.
“So why Vegas?” Asked the young man.
“It is my destiny. I saw it while lost in the desert,” said the woman.
The young man just shook his head and drove. It was the beginning of twilight when the truck drove down South Las Vegas Boulevard and let them off at the entrance to the outdoor concert taking place. “Get the hell out of Vegas right now,” the old man told Eknath as he closed the passenger door. “Get out and don’t look back.”
The woman took the old man’s arm and led him to the entrance. He produced two passes as security let them through. She found a location along the back fence for the old man to sit down. Then she left him.
She wandered through the crowd speaking in both Spanish and English, telling people they were all going to die. Some laughed, most ignored her. Then the shooting began. At first, people thought it was fireworks. Then the music stopped, and the performers ran for cover. People started to scream. Some fell to the ground with blood pouring from them.
The woman became the calm in the eye of the storm. She walked from one dying person to the next as the crowd ran aimlessly in search of an exit or at least cover from the rain of bullets. She held each dying person lovingly in her arms and slowly bent over and gave each one a dying kiss.
“God, Ana hold on, hold on.” Jeff Davis said. Ana Maria and Jeff Davis were standing near the back when the shooting began, and Ana was its first victim.
“Save my baby. I know I’m going to die but save my baby.”
“Santa Muerte,” Ana said looking at the young woman standing behind Jeff Davis.
“My God, I am dying.”
“How far along is she?”
“She just went in to labor after she got shot. She’s not ready to deliver, and she sure as hell isn’t strong enough. She’s lost to much blood,” Jeff Davis replied.
“Let me look.” Santa Muerte knelt down and lifted Ana’s skirt. “She’s barely dilated. Do you have a knife?”
“Do you have a knife? We have to cut this baby out, now.”
“Who the hell are you? Are you crazy?”
“Look around. We are in the middle of a killing field. She is dying. The baby will likely die too, unless we do something right now.”
“Jeff, she’s right. I’m going to die. I just want my son to live.”
“A boy? How beautiful. What will his name be?”
“Xavier, like his grand uncle.”
“Give her your knife,” Ana said to Jeff.
“You’re both crazy.”
“Do it,” screamed Ana.
Jeff Davis took his knife out of his pants pocket, unfolded it and handed it to the woman. Santa Muerte felt carefully between Ana’s thighs. She inserted the knife in her vagina and with one strong pull slit the woman up through her belly. Ana screamed. Santa Muerte reached inside her and pulled the newborn from his dying mother. She cleaned the after birth away and cut the umbilical cord. She laid the baby on Ana’s breast, and bent over to give Ana a long kiss. Her dying breath and her soul filling Santa Muerte’s body as the baby let out his first cry.
The old man opened his eyelids revealing the blackened eye sockets. He heard a baby cry. The circle was completed and the revolution begun.