A Storyby Jerry D. Mathes II
El Pollo had left them before dawn, saying he’d be back at nightfall to guide them the rest of the way. Over these last mountains, El Pollo had said, to a spot on an old ranch where a white woman took in migrants, feeding them and letting them rest before continuing to the cities of the United States or into the farmlands or the forests for work. Armando looked over at his wife, Catalina, and three children, Fidel, Soledad, and Pilar, as they napped or tried to keep comfortable under the shotgun-pattern shade. Pale dust clung to their skin like the lime he had thrown on the dead. Soledad, his oldest daughter, fourteen, coughed hard, her lungs phlegm filled. He planned to go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he’d find old friends.
When dawn came he looked out from the foothills. An archipelago of mountain ranges jutted off the desert floor, separated by prehistoric lake bottoms. Rugged and broken mountains rose to the north. Steep arroyos, covered with slashing and stabbing grass, mesquite, yuccas, junipers, and shattered rocks forced up from the tectonic pulsing and pulling of the earth.