The kid was lost. The trail was deserted and the moon was quickly disappearing behind the clouds. He knew that in a minute he would not be able to see anything at all. In the distance he could hear the dogs barking as they grew closer. He had to try to memorize the trail because he would be running in the darkness in a few seconds. Anything he could do to improve his chances of not getting caught would help. He knew that if the dogs caught him he would be torn apart, and if he survived, then thrown back into the hole. He didn’t want to go back in the hole. His parents died in the hole few days ago. It was when they were removing their bodies from the hole this afternoon, that he got the chance to escape. They probably found out he was missing when they came to bring him some bread and a little water for dinner. Now he wished he had some of that water. He had heard his father telling his mother that without water they would die in the desert.
He shouldn’t think about that now. He needed to stay sharp and ahead of the dogs. He ran as fast as he could. Hearing the dogs made him run faster. He remembered his father telling him that maintaining a steady pace would be better than trying to sprint. He tried to pace himself. He noticed that his eyes were getting used to the darkness. He could see the brush ahead of him. He knew the dogs were following his scent, and he wondered what he could do to confuse the dogs. If he had some hot peppers maybe that would do it. The problem was he didn’t have anything like it. He needed to stop thinking about evading the dogs and keep his strength to run.
His mother had told him yesterday, before they beat her to death, that he should try to escape and run north, and try to make it into the United States. He had an uncle in Texas who could help him, if he could find him. He had to stay ahead of the dogs. Eventually the handlers would call the dogs back. They didn’t want to lose them, and if they got too far from the farm, they may not come back. They had this high pitched whistle they would use to call them. The kid could hear the whistle, but grownups could not. He had noticed that when they were captured a few days ago. He need to catch his breath, but he couldn’t afford to stop. Not yet. He pushed on.
Soon he crested a hill and found himself looking at a small stream. He didn’t know if the water was good, or if it would make him sick. It didn’t matter. His throat was so dry he couldn’t even swallow saliva, which he didn’t have anyway. He needed to drink a little bit, or he was going to die here.
He dropped down into the gully and got down on his knees by the stream. The water was moving slowly, so at least it wasn’t stagnant. He drank. It hurt his throat, but he kept drinking. He had to keep moving. He mustn’t think about the pain, he had to focus on something good.
He knew he had to move north, but the stream was flowing east. East would not be safe. There were other narcos in that direction. Maybe they were also looking for him. Follow the stream east, and then find a route north in a kilometer or so. He knew that he should run in the water, as he didn’t think the dogs could smell him in the water.
The kid thought the dogs sounded a bit further away. Then he realized that the sound was being masked by the gully. The dogs were still behind him. He couldn’t stop here. If he did, he wouldn’t have the strength to get up again. He was so tired.
He got up and started running in the stream. At least the dogs would not be able to track him, he hoped. After a few minutes he noticed that the stream was drying out. A few yards further the water disappeared into the desert and the kid was left alone again. He took his bearings from the stars, as his father had taught him, and started north. The dogs were always behind him. He thought they sounded a bit more distant, but that was just wishful thinking. Everybody knew that a boy could not outrun a pack of dogs.
The kid was losing his strength fast. He could not keep this up. Maybe he should let them catch him, at least he would then be able to join his mother and father in heaven. He stopped and turned around. He thought he had heard something. It must have been a wild dog or something. But there was something dark against the side of the dry gully. The kid stopped. It didn’t move. The kid got closer and realized it was a small cave, probably the den of some animal. He got closer. There didn’t seem to be anything in it. It was probably larger once you got inside. He stood next to the opening and got down on his haunches. The kid didn’t think there was anything in the hole. Maybe he could get in and rest a bit. As he got closer he was overwhelmed by the smell of decay. Something had died here. The kid felt like throwing up, but there was no food in his stomach. He heaved, but there was nothing to throw up. Soon the urge dissipated and he started squeezing himself into the dark opening. He sensed that there was room for him to hide in the hole. He pushed himself, on his elbows, further, deeper into the hole.
The smell of death would mask his scent. The kid started shaking. He realized that he had nothing else to give, that he was finished. He needed rest. He closed his eyes for a minute…
A little later the barking woke him up. The dogs were very close. The barking sounded different. They whined a little, as they did when they lost the scent. Before, they barked aggressively while they were chasing him. Maybe they lost the scent in the water? The kid held his breath. He could hear his heart beating like it wanted to escape from his chest. He willed his heart to slow down, lest the dogs hear it. Could the dogs hear his heart in this hole? After a few minutes the kid started breathing normally.
Now that is eyes were used to the darkness the kid saw that he was in a very small cave. It was big enough for the kid to turn around if he tried hard. Then the kid saw what was making the odor. A partially eaten rabbit lay next to him. Whatever was living in this den would come back soon. It was probably out hunting in the night. The kid had to get out of there. He didn’t want to face a hungry wolf trying to get back to his rabbit.
Then the kid heard the whistle. It was so high pitched that he wasn’t sure he’d heard it. Then he heard it again. He knew that the handlers were giving up and calling the dogs back. For the first time the kid relaxed a little.
The kid had learned to count in school back in Chihuahua where his father worked in a farm. Now he was going to count to 50, and then leave the cave. The minute he thought of his parents the kid started crying. They had been trying to go to the States to visit his uncle, when they were robbed on the bus that was taking them to the border. The bandits had thrown them off the bus and left them stranded on the road at night. A little later a pickup stopped and gave them a lift to a nearby farm.
The farm was a staging point for people to carry drugs across the border. They told my father that he had to carry some weed across the border or they would hurt my mother and me. Then they locked the three of them in a hole in the ground behind the farm. The next day they pulled the father out and took him into the house. An hour later they threw him into the hold, all bloody and broken. Then they took the mother. When she was returned she had a broken arm, and was bloody all over. The kids father held his wife and tried comforting her, then he turned to the kid.
“Son, they are going to kill us. You have to get out of here somehow, and go north to Texas. These men are sadists. They don’t really want us to be mules carrying drugs. They are just saying that to play with us.”
The bad men brought some corn tortillas and a bucket of water. They ate in silence and slept fitfully. In the morning they took them away. That was the last time the kid saw his parents alive. They dropped their bodies off in the evening. The kid cried till he fell asleep. A little later they came back for the bodies. That was when the kid managed to escape.
The kid had stopped counting, but he assumed that the dogs and the men were gone by now. He had not heard from them in a while. He started squeezing himself back into the little hole. Through the space he could see moonlight. He heard the howling of a wolf. He hoped the owner of this little den would not be back till he got out. He pushed himself harder. After a few minutes the kid found himself lying on the ground outside the cave. The air was fresh and smelled wonderful. He had not realized how bad the cave had been. He got up and oriented himself with the stars again. He decide to go back to the stream and get more water first. He was going to need it if he was going to walk all night.
Half an hour later the kid was walking north with a belly full of water. He didn’t know how far it was, but he would continue till he couldn’t walk any more. He tried to think about his parents, but he couldn’t remember their faces. All he could see in his mind were their bloody bodies in the hole. The kid didn’t want to cry anymore. He knew he needed to conserve water, and tears were made of water, so he would not cry anymore.
He walked all night long. Eventually the sky lightened and the kid could see the horizon. He saw some houses east of him, but he didn’t want to go there as they could be friends of the narcos he just escaped from. He need to stay alone till he got into the United States.
At some point during the day he passed a farm growing corn. He couldn’t see anybody, so he ventured into the corn to steal a few ears. The kid knew he needed food to keep going, although he stopped feeling hunger a long time ago. He ate the raw corn as fast as he could. The corn hurt his stomach. A few minutes later he started throwing up. Fortunately the kid saved an ear of corn, so he started eating it very slowly and chewing his food carefully.
Soon he passed a number of farms, but the kid thought he was still in Mexico so he stayed away from the farmers and continued on his odyssey. Now that he was not being chased, he rested a few minutes whenever he could find some shade. His shoes were torn and the hot sand was burning his feet.
The kid saw his father standing on a hill in front of him and ran to meet him. When he got to the top of the hill, there was nobody around. He was out of breath and realized that he saw him in his mind. His father and mother had been killed a couple of days ago. His friends talked about people seeing ghosts, and he wondered if that was his father’s ghost he saw. He continued walking till nightfall. He could not stop thinking about his parents. He really really missed them. The kid did not know what he would do when he got to America. He started thinking about what he expected America to be like. He had seen lots of television movies about America. He felt better just thinking about what he would do in America. Somehow it gave him a little more energy. He was so tired. He didn’t know how long he could continue. He had not eaten since he stole the corn and would need some water and food soon, if he was going to make it to America.
The sun was setting and the kid knew he needed to find shelter. In the distance he saw a farmhouse with a barn next to it. He was going to get close to it and see if anybody lived there. Maybe he could sleep in the barn and be gone before the owners discovered him.
Once the sun set, he took a course towards the farm. He knew the temperature would drop a lot once the sun was gone so he hurried. His feet had started to bleed, but he couldn’t stop if he was going to get to America. It was dark when he approached the farm. He went to the barn and looked in the window. It was full of farm equipment. This would be perfect. They wouldn’t use the equipment till morning and in the meantime he could get some sleep. He tried the door, and was happily surprised that it opened and was not locked. He entered the barn and saw bales of hay, to feed the animals, in the corner. He went to the nearest bale and plucked hay from it, till he had a comfortable bed to sleep on. He lay down and was gone in seconds.
At five in the morning Joe, the farmer, woke up and boiled some water to make coffee. Joe and his wife Nancy had been living and working this farm since they inherited it from his parents. Their only son had been killed in Iraq, and they tended the farm as best they could. After breakfast, and before dawn, Joe told his wife that he was going to gas up the tractor.
A few minutes later Joe ran back into the house.
“Nancy. Come quick! You got to see this.” Joe said.
“What’s all the fuss about, Joe?” Nancy said following him.
Joe opened the barn door and there they saw the kid sleeping peacefully on the hay. He was incredibly filthy and his feet were bloody and covered with sores.
“I don’t know how he made it here with those feet.” He said.
“Pick him up Joe, bring him into the house. You can put him in Joe Jr’s bedroom.” Nancy said.
“He’s feverish. Nancy. We got to get him to a doctor.” Joe said.
“Just bring him into the house. Let’s clean him up first.” Nancy said.
Joe tenderly picked the kid up and carried him into the house. The kid did not wake up, even after Nancy gave him a sponge bath and lay him down in the bed.
“Joe, why don’t you go into town and bring the doctor. I will sit here in case he wakes up. It looks like the kid has gone through hell.” Nancy said.
“I’m on my way.” Joe said as he left the house.
A little later the kid stirred and opened his eyes. He tried to sit up but didn’t have the strength. Fear clouded his eyes. He looked around the room. There were posters on the wall in English. He looked at the lady with the nice smile sitting by the bed.
“Donde estoy?” the kid said trembling.
“Estas en tu casa. You are home, and don’t have to worry anymore.” Nancy said smiling.
The kid rolled on his side and started crying. I made it. My daddy would be proud of me.