Men don’t cry, boy. Stop that, a gruff deep voice said. I’m going to tell you a story. Two boys were left in the desert with nothing but themselves. One boy survived, made it out and became a man and the boss of the Pandilla cartel like his daddy. One boy died. He stayed a boy forever.
Someone in the passenger’s seat got out and opened the back doors. The boy’s heart pounded. A hand grabbed his swimming trunks and yanked him out of the van. He flopped onto cool sand.
Get up, a smooth deep voice said.
The boy got up. A hand shoved him forward.
The boy walked.
Cut him loose, the gruff deep voice said.
The duct tape ripped off, stinging the boy’s mouth. The zip-tie around his wrists snapped off. The blindfold whisked away. The boy looked at where he was. Too bright. He clenched his eyes shut and pressed his face into the crook of his arm.
What’d I do? he asked.
Carlos, the smooth deep voice said and clicked its tongue three times.
What’d I do?
You were born, boy, the gruff deep voice said.
Three doors slammed. Then the van drove away and the brightness turned off.
The boy lowered his arm and opened his eyes. Night. The dim red brake lights of the van disappeared over a dune. He crawled up the dune, digging his fingers and toes into the sand. There were two boys in the gruff deep voice’s story. But what about him, the third boy? He figured his story would end with his mom rescuing him.
At the top of the dune he shivered and cried. The van was gone, lost to a moonless black night and a desert. Dune after dune after dune. So much sand.
It reminded him of San Clemente State Beach. He and his mom had had a fun day there and she was buckling him into his car seat to leave when two men came up behind her. One choked her out and one kidnapped him.
Thirsty and hungry and tired, he started down the dune. Something told him to head the way he thought the van had gone and to do it now instead of later. He walked to the next dune and climbed up it.
You were born, boy. Yeah he was born all right. Happy fucking birthday. Everyone was born. He didn’t deserve this. He was six and homeschooled. He watched MMA with his mom and took classes. He talked about it a ton but that wasn’t bad. He hung around La Siesta Mexican Restaurant where his mom worked, played games on her phone and laughed at stupid memes. What did he do?
The sky lightened. The sun rose in a cloudless blue sky and heated up the sand. Soon the sun was burning his back. Then the sand was burning his hands and feet. The glare of the sun reflected off the sand. He squinted and put more dunes behind him.
His head aching, his mouth dry, his limbs heavy, he slowed. Where was his mom? She should hurry and rescue him. He wanted to sit on a towel in the shade under an umbrella with her. Drink a cold Hi-C and eat a tuna sandwich and some Pringles while she applied enough sunblock for three boys. He wanted to lie down next to her and relax. He fell.
Supine and sunburnt, he lay in the sand, a third of the way up a dune. Dust powdered his stomach. An invisible wool sock gagged him. The heat kept up and the boy didn’t cry.
Matt Weatherbee writes things.