Fiction

A departure from my usual topics, all non-fiction.
I started writing fiction about three months ago. I finished a novel, posted it in serial form (to keep myself writing! I work best under pressure.), began a second one halfway through, and then posted a chapter of each ever week. No writer’s block! The first novel is now running as a serial on another free site, much expanded, rewritten, and edited. If you’re interested, it’s Combat Wizard (Speculative Fiction, SF, under a pen name) on a site called Beyond the Far Horizon. I’ll post the second novel there, totally different, when it’s finished. Meantime, I’ve begun book three, a sequel to Combat Wizard, called Wizard at Work. Got all that?
This is chapter one of that last book; if SF, psi stuff, isn’t your interest, skip this.
XXXX

Chapter One

T and Shezzie had toured the Southwest. They spent a week in Las Vegas and then moved on. California had been fun and they had enjoyed San Francisco. By mutual agreement, they avoided southern California. Surfer had spent much of his too-short life there before dying in Mexico and finally being cremated. T had attempted to recover the remains but had not been able to prove family connections, so the request had been rejected. Surfer’s remains had finally been buried in a cemetery in Juarez, just another among the many unknown and unwanted dead in a city and nation with too many such.

They traveled up California through Big Sur and then to Seattle. The city had engaged their attention for three days, but they had left before it began to pall. From there they had driven down through the Utah desert and marveled at the erosion all around. The Grand Canyon had fascinated, but only for a day. In the end, it too was erosion, and they had seen much of it by that time. A reservation had been made so that they could visit Yellowstone, but again only a day was needed. Finally, by mutual consent, they had headed home.

New Mexico was gripped in drought. The Rio Grande was nearly dry, and in fact was dry in stretches. Conservationists were worried about the wild populations of the endangered silvery minnow. A captive breeding program might provide a restocking resource when the rains finally came again.

Wildfires had broken out in Arizona and Texas, and of course in New Mexico as well. The state ranked as the worst-hit among all states regarding damage from drought. The tall pines and firs in the mountains, normally so cool and damp in the summer, baked. The standing trees, the ones that still lived, were as dry as kiln-dried lumber. Bark beetles infested and then killed the weakened trees. Great swathes of them then fell victim to lightning-sparked fires.

Shezzie was clearly worried when they returned to the Jemez Mountains. The village of Jemez Springs was located in the mountains, just north of the Jemez Pueblo and south of Los Alamos and the Bandelier National Monument, a preserved ruin from the days before the Spanish invasion. Their cabin lay north of the village and was surrounded by the dry forest. Some stretches of the forest had been closed to visitors because of the extreme fire danger.

A short distance away lay the Valles Caldera, a super-volcano that had been a part of the process that formed the mountains. There were still several hot springs scattered through the mountains showing that the area was still not extinct but only quiescent.

T drove back to New Mexico in near silence. He had again been troubled by nightmares. Night sweats, panicked look in the morning, exhausted and wrinkled face when they ate breakfast together, sour smell of sweat from the night’s terrors; if it all wasn’t as bad for Shezzie as it was for T, it was still bad enough. She feared that his PTSD might have returned and had no idea what to do about it. Whatever had happened in El Paso, T refused to discuss it. Ray was quiet as well regarding this topic. The nightmares had returned soon after the two had split up, with Ray going home to see about developing his relationship with Ana Maria and T vanishing into the small town in the mountains of New Mexico.

T disappeared the morning after the two of them arrived at their cabin. Shezzie noticed that his side of the bed was damp from the sweating he’d done and that his truck was missing. She had heard nothing. Perhaps he had allowed the truck to drift quietly downhill, only starting the motor after he was some distance away from where the two parked their cars in front of the cabin.

T blamed himself for allowing Ray to become involved in the murderous outcome where the two had confronted a street gang in South El Paso. Ray did not blame T; far from it. He had lost no sleep over the deaths of a murderous gang of thugs. T neither knew about this nor would he have cared. Logic played no role in his depression.

Sleepless, he had unlocked his truck and left the cabin. He drove aimlessly through the backroads and finally through the eastbound Interstate 40. He had tired of the sameness of the road and had headed south through Tijeras after gassing up the truck. He had stopped where he found something of interest. In one of the small towns, he had found surprising amounts of graffiti. It was a moment’s work to erase every bit of it that he could see as he drove slowly through the town. An infuriated gang of taggers and a bemused group of residents would wonder what had happened. For the first time in days, T let a smile crinkle his face.

He found a pull-off and slept for a time in the truck. He ate a late breakfast in Mountainair and then pulled off to investigate a ruined Indian construction. Abo ruins had once been a thriving pueblo, but had fallen into disuse and finally had crumbled after the native inhabitants had moved on. T wondered why they had settled here, so far from the river that other Puebloans had sought to water their crops. Clearly, they had. Perhaps they had fled from enemies. The oldest ruins were quite primitive and were now partially blocked off and hidden by drifted sand and dirt.

T hiked the short trail through the monument but avoided the ranger’s station. There were no visitors as yet on this day. The solitude suited T’s mood.

A warning buzz announced a large western diamondback rattlesnake. T could clearly see the reptile, loosely coiled in the shade of a scrubby bush. The snake might have been waiting in ambush for a mouse or rabbit to hop by.

Motivated by impulse, T used his Talent to softly grasp and lift the big snake. It was as thick through as his forearm and was nearly six feet in length. Did the numbers of rattles tell the age of the snake, as legend had it? Or did a successful hunter need to shed the skin more often and therefore add a new rattle every time it discarded the old skin?

The snake coiled frantically in the air in front of T’s face. He took control of the forward end of the snake and brought the head up until it faced him, mouth open, tongue flicking out. The eyes were poised a few inches forward of his own eyes, and he studied them. A membrane flicked across the eyes and the mouth opened. The fangs erected from their resting groove in the snake’s mouth. T tried to read any thoughts the snake might have. He picked up nothing. No thoughts at all, not anger, not hunger, nothing. Perhaps the snake functioned not on thought but solely on instinct.

The snake found no purchase to support a strike or an escape. Frustrated, it coiled and uncoiled in the air, heavy body knotted with muscle under the scales.

Finally, T tired of looking at the snake. He floated it away and gently released it near a partly-concealed dwelling that was marked as off-limits to visitors. The snake rapidly disappeared into a hole that was there in the drifted dirt. Perhaps a western pocket gopher would not appreciate the new tunnel neighbor. Very likely, the angered snake would have folded on its own length as it disappeared into the hole. The gopher, organic digging machine that it was, would quickly wall off the snake by throwing up a barrier of dirt. The snake would eventually crawl out and resume it’s hunting.

T walked back to his truck. He nodded at a family of four and watched them nod back. One of the children called to him in greeting. He smiled and went on.

The drive, or perhaps the incident with the snake, had reminded him that his troubled mind was not alone. Many others had troubles and some of them might be much worse than his own.

T took state highway 47 north, gassed up in Los Lunas, and caught I-25 north past the Isleta reservation. The casino was apparently busy, judging from the cars parked out in the several parking
lots.

T took the time to comm Shezzie and let her know he was heading for home. He had worked his way through the worst effects of the shock and nightmares, and he had done it himself. Ultimately, that falls to everyone who finds themselves troubled. Combat veteran dealing with shock, any veteran or police officer who finds that the demands of duty have broken a marriage, even a prisoner or drug addict; rehabilitation does not come from others, it must come from within. By your own bootstraps, you lift yourself.

T drove north and arrived home by late afternoon, depression ended.

For now.

That night, another murder was reported in Ciudad Juarez. The bodies hanged from bridges, decapitations, those things the city had learned to take in stride as gang warred with gang. The usual victims were at the bottom of the gang hierarchy, soldiers in the wars who could be sacrificed without worry by those at the upper levels. There were always more of them. Money from the drugs sold to the norteamericanos and poverty among Mexicans ensured that recruits would not be hard to find.

This, however, was different. Even jaded Mexicans who still survived the gang-fights and the unsolved murders of so many young women felt a sense of shock.

The victim, unusually, was from near the top of the Zeta Cartel. No stranger to violence himself, he had trained at the School of the Americas and then an advanced course for selected soldiers conducted by special operations forces. The courses had been designed to enable Mexican and other Latin American military leaders to combat guerillas and drug gangs. Instead, many had turned that training around and used it to make the drug operations and anti-government efforts more effective.

None of that had helped him. Nor had the weapons he carried on his person.

Like five before him, he had been simply ripped apart. Blood, body parts, all scattered around the hotel room where he’d reportedly gone to meet with another of the series of young women that found it exciting to mingle with the drug men. They were celebrities in Mexico! Songwriters and musicians even sang songs celebrating their activities!

In the streets of Juarez, the graffiti had begun to change. Now, there was a line drawing that frequently appeared among the stylized lettering. Spare, an animal’s head, sometimes the pointed ears were upright, sometimes they were laid back. The eyes were mere slits, denoted by single curved lines. There was a black nose the suggested dog ancestry, and improbably long and sharp teeth below that.

The well educated Mexicans knew that the murders were human caused. Some speculated that whoever was doing it was engaging in terror to cause the drug gangs to leave and find a less-dangerous place to set up operations.

But not all were well educated. The sketch sometimes had a label, now. And people whispered the name and looked over their shoulder.

Chupacabra. The legendary ‘goat-sucker’ had found a new taste he liked.

The taste of human blood, and in particular the blood of drug bosses.

XXX

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