map Chisos Mountain

by LB Benton

Published in Issue No. 242 ~ July, 2017

Bad things happen in these mountains.

Patient, enduring, these mountains sit in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, where a sinuous Rio Grande River works its way south dividing Texas from Mexico. Here the country is dry, dusty, and hostile. The arms of the Ocotillo Bush splay awkwardly in all directions and sway; reaching, stretching out to threaten and claw at passersby with its two-inch thorns. Jagged, loose, angular limestone rocks, sharp as knives, can twist under foot and sprain an ankle in a heartbeat. Rattlesnakes rest in shady places and javelinas carry tusks capable of ripping a gash from the knee to the thigh in one thrust. In this country, you always carry a pistol.

Carlos squats high up on the slope of Chisos Mountain, peering carefully through binoculars at the river below. He sits motionless, beads of sweat across his forehead and back. Across the valley, across the Rio Grande, is Mexico, the border no more than an invisible line down the center of the river. As he watches, a group of people, a line of small dots on the valley floor, wind their way over loose rock and through thick creosote brush cover. There is a sameness across this landscape. It is easy to get lost, but the guide knows the trails, knows how to avoid being spotted by border patrol planes, knows where it is safe to rest. The guides are known as coyotes. This one is stealthy, quiet, shadowy. He is leading the group, and he is carrying a backpack of cocaine. He rarely speaks. He stands off to the side, you don’t quite see him, he doesn’t look at you. But he knows the way, and he knows where to meet Carlos.

There are few agents, federales, along this stretch of border. It is safer here, there is less chance of getting caught. But there are other dangers; hostile animals alarmed by your presence and willing to defend what is theirs, rock slides that could carry you over cliffs, and loose soil that turns under foot. Twist an ankle, or worse, break a foot, and, if you are unable to walk, you will die before anyone finds you. You become a liability; the coyote will simply leave you.

Carlos watches the group of twelve slowly mount the side of the mountain, each individual laboring against gravity as they pick their way around shrubs and cactus. Carlos has parked a van on an abandoned ranch road just over a rise and will take the twelve to El Paso. There they will blend into the mass of humanity that roams the dusty streets and the white-washed adobe bars in the barrios. Later they will travel to their families and friends in other parts of the country. Each person will pay one thousand American dollars for the crossing. Carlos will meet privately with the coyote. He will get half the money, and he will transport the people and the cocaine to El Paso. Carlos, too, faces risks.

Carlos watches the group through the binoculars, his elbows resting on his knees. He stays quiet and still, sweating in the day’s heat. He lowers the binoculars and watches the group move slowly upward. In particular, he watches the coyote, and he narrows his eyes. This coyote has double-crossed him. Each trip the coyote delivers a backpack of cocaine for the dealers in El Paso. But this coyote has been stealing, taking a little from each bundle. The El Paso dealers have discovered this and blame Carlos. They have beaten him, threatened his family.

This coyote is a bad one; un mal. He is stealing from the dealers, and Carlos has paid the price. Nobody double-crosses the dealers or Carlos. He watches carefully. The group will soon arrive. He will meet privately with the coyote.

Bad things happen in these mountains.

Carlos will be glad when it is finished.

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LB (Brent) Benton is a freelance writer with a number of publications to his credit. These include non-fiction management, technical, and current events articles published in national magazines and journals. He has published several science-fiction short stories including stories in Bewildering Stories, 365tomorrows, and Nebula Rift. He is a member of several area writers groups including: West Houston Writers (Katy), Houston Science Fiction Writers, and the Brazos Valley Writers Groups (College Station). He lives and works in Katy, Texas. Connect on Twitter @scribbler8.