The desert at night is beautiful mistress who seduces the soul with mystery and beauty. Her indigo firmament reveals infinity in its innumerable stars. Her full moon cast a pale blue glow across the endless desert floor. She provides peace and comfort to all within her providence.
Azucena entered this sensual landscape at the back of a small band of twelve. Two were guides, the rest were, like herself, daring the dangers of this alien world for the chance of a better life in America. She was the only woman in the group. Half an hour into the darkness, the older Coyote took Azucena aside, separating her from the rest of the group. “Time for you to pay me,” he said.
“You’ve already been paid.”
“Your brother provided the down payment, now your body will finalize the deal. Strip, bitch or I leave you here for the snakes and buzzards.”
Azucena backed away and pulled a Glock pistol that her brother had given her from her pack. “You’ve already been paid in full.”
“I was paid to get you across the border. You’re across. You want me to get you out of the desert alive, it’ll cost you.”
She aimed the gun at the Coyote. He laughed. “Bitches have no cojones. You won’t shoot.”
She pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the ground between his feet. “Fuck. You crazy bitch. I’m outta here.” He walked off into the darkness. She aimed at his back but couldn’t pull the trigger.
She began walking, unsure which way the group had gone, she just wanted to get away from him. She climbed a hill, sliding backwards in the sand with each step. Her body was drenched in sweat as she rounded the summit hoping to find the others. Desolation was all she saw. It was past midnight. She laid down to rest.
The heat of the morning sun on her face woke her as last night’s seductress began to reveal her sadistic side. The intensity of the heat surprised her. She stared at the valley below and the mountains beyond. She drank water from her pack and started down. At the sun’s zenith she admitted defeat and crawled under a mesquite tree, hiding in its meagre shadow while the desert sand burnt her skin.
Dusk provided relief from the sun but not the temperature. She headed towards the mountains. Darkness came quickly, and she became lost in the deep creases of the arroyos. She turned into one steep canyon hoping for a path through the mountains only for it to dead end at a steep rock wall. The mountains were a maze, a jumble of wrong ways, cutbacks, and dead ends. Now too weak to climb, she skirted the edges until she found herself back in the desert floor.
At night, Apache raiding parties, more ethereal than corporeal rode, their ponies thundering hooves echoing in the night. With nowhere to hide, save a sparse mesquite or cactus, she stood motionless, awaiting a death that never arrived.
She slept. She walked. Boundaries eroded between reality and her dreams. She found a partially buried human skeleton. Its bones, polished to a gleaming ivory, reflected the late afternoon sun. She knelt, feeling the beautiful, smooth bones.
“Talk to me. Were you an immigrant like me, looking for a new life? Were you an Apache or Navajo slaughtered by the American army? An American soldier claiming to be just following orders and killed as a result by an Apache or Mexican warrior. An unlucky drug mule, perhaps? Whisper your secrets in my ear. Tell me how you came to die alone in this desolate place.”
She drifted off to sleep. When she awoke the skeleton was lying on top of her, its arms wrapped around her in a lover’s embrace. She stared deep into its black eye sockets, sharing its loneliness. She kissed its cheek and gently lay it down in the sand. “Good bye, my friend.”
She may have walked for days, or for weeks. The sameness of it all rendered time meaningless. The vastness of the desert made distances irrelevant. She was lost in a labyrinth.
She abandoned her clothes, folding them neatly and stacking them in a pile on a rock with her pack on top to keep them from blowing away, as if she planned to return.
Demons followed, speaking to her through the desert floor. Occasionally she would watch as sand piled up in front of her, pushed forth from below and a small cobalt head would emerge from the hole. The demon would smile at her, look around, take his bearings then submerge into the sand. Sometimes he spoke to her in Spanish, taunting her, tempting her. Sometimes he spoke in unknown tongues. On occasion two or three cobalt heads emerged from the sand. Once, seven heads emerged, surrounding her in a wide arc.
About this time, she noticed a golden eagle soaring high in the bright blue sky. It followed her day and night. The appearances of the demons diminished. Late one evening as she drifted off to sleep the eagle landed in a cactus next to her.
“Why have you been following me?”
“Demons are a delicacy. I’ve caught six so far. You’re very special.”
“Special to whom?”
“Why to the Devil of course.”
Deep within the labyrinth, a dust devil rose in the distance growing in size and ferocity until it threatened to pick her up and toss her body, like a doll, against the large organ pipe cacti surrounding her. It dissipated in an instant leaving a giant vermillion man standing naked with the glaring sun reflecting off his gleaming body.
“Look at you, you pathetic, naked creature, vaingloriously protecting your precious virginity like the mother of Christ herself. Spread your legs, let me take what is most precious to you, and I will deliver you from this hell.”
She could get no spittle from her dry mouth, so She slapped him. He laughed. “It’s a pity you let this agony continue. I’ll return when you’re closer to death.”
He shimmered in the heat then vanished. She walked, she knew not where. Demons followed her, taunting her through the desert floor, unwilling to show their heads while the eagle circled above.
She lay beneath an ironwood tree seeking relief from the afternoon sun. A large rattlesnake slithered between her legs, working his way up across her belly and between her breasts until his head touched her lips. His tongue tickling her ‘til she awoke. He rose up and looked her in the eyes as she lay motionless. “Don’t move or I will bite.” He curled himself up and rested his head against her breast. With each slight movement, his tail rattled in warning.
The day grew late. A scorpion crawled from the sand and stung her. She jumped in pain, startling the snake into biting her. The two venoms combined to quick effect. She entered a fevered state as visions of the future presented themselves across the deep blue sky. A war was coming. The sky was filled with the blood of the dead and dying: the poor, the migrants, the Mexicans, Native Americans, and Americans of all races. She saw the empire fall. She saw many other strange and wonderous things dance across the late afternoon sky.
Crimson bled across the western sky silhouetting the Devil’s massive body as he walked toward the ironwood where she lay motionless. The snake slithered from her breast across her face and came to rest as a crown above her head. The Devil lay on top of her, fondling her with his long, clawed fingers while his serpent tongue flitted across her body. She lay paralyzed as he pushed her legs wide. She cried tearlessly as he penetrated her, stealing her precious virginity, her blood spilling onto the desert sand. Sated, he lay motionless on her, crushing her, squeezing the air from her lungs. With the last of her strength she squeezed his seed from her womb.
A spirit emerged from the ground between her legs and entered her body. Azucena, nearly dead, became energized. She threw the Devil off her with such force he landed against a nearby cactus. A screech filled the sky as a golden eagle swooped down to grab the snake in its talons.
“Who possesses this mortal husk?” The Devil asked.
“You reap what you sow old man.”
“What is your name?”
“It’s no matter to you. Now leave.”
“Strong words from such a weak woman whom I just impregnated.”
“Your seed was spilt on the earth not in my womb, but from your seed and from her blood I was born. Now leave.”
“Who are you to order me? What magic is this?”
The woman stepped into the Devil and grabbed his limp member. “You have no power over me, now leave before I tear your phallus from its roots.”
“I shall leave once I know your name.”
“Santa Muerte,” she whispered into the Devil’s ear. The strength of those words banished him to his domain to sulk and connive and plot revenge.
The moon and stars hid behind the clouds as a storm approached. A bolt of lightning cracked off in the distance splitting the sky in two. The ripple of trailing thunder broke the desert’s silence. The second bolt took a closer bead, and the third hit its target as the thunder arrived in a cracking roar at the same instant as the lightning flashed. A dead mesquite tree burst into flames. Figures danced in the fire as the eagle sat in a nearby cactus eating the snake.
“Why do Americans worry so much about a line on a map? Why is an imaginary border more important than human lives? Such greed, such conceit.” Azucena was unsure whether she or the fire dancers were asking the questions. It didn’t matter, for she did not have any answers.
Naked, her leathered skin burnt black by the relentless sun, breasts shriveled, body scraped and torn, cactus spines imbedded in her skin, her skull crowned by her salt caked black hair, she could defy death no more. The sky spat large drops of rain upon her dying body, mocking her. The drops turned to deluge, and serenity spread across the woman’s face as she gazed at the pellets of rain pounding the earth. Her body was found the next day by US Border Patrol.