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By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker
To read Chapter 19, click here
"The fire," the voice said, somewhere off to my right. "El fueyyyy-go," it echoed, annoyingly.
I didn't respond. Didn't want to answer him, or to otherwise embolden his ontology.
"It's going to become a real problem, you know," he droned on stubbornly, ignoring my ignoring. It took me a moment to summon the will power needed to shift my body slightly on the cot. The pain exploded again in my chest, the three broken ribs ratcheting up an old symphony, now familiar, that the opiates had concealed before I foolishly tossed them away back in Cerralvo. My head didn't hurt at all, which was a much bigger problem, but I wasn't cognitively capable of approaching the realization that brain injuries kill you with soporific camouflage. The embers from the elevated concrete fireplace-cum-oven still glowed a comforting red. "Looks fine," I murmured, closing my eyes again. I tried to decide if attempting to burrow deeper into the three wool blankets currently covering me was worth the pain, and decided against it.
"The fire's fine," he riposted after a few moments. "It's more the lack of the fire that might, you know, become worrisome."
I opened my eyes again, moving from the fire down to the four by five by five foot recess built into the wall underneath the fireplace, where several stacks of corded wood lay in what had previously seemed to be sufficient abundance. How many had there been, then? I wondered. I closed my eyes and tried to think back to my arrival...yesterday? I wasn't sure anymore. It was clearly dark outside. Surely I hadn't slept all day and into the next night? "The fire wouldn't have lasted," he responded, now somewhere to my left. He was right, the annoying bastard. Which meant that in less than a day, I'd already used roughly fifteen percent of my wood, I calculated groggily. That really was going to be a problem, I agreed, telling myself I needed to sit up. I didn't listen.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," he crowed happily, now above me. "You've been putting things off without a break now for hours. Nobody gets time off in the procrastinatorium for good behavior."
I finally managed to pull myself upward into a sitting position, my breath ragged. The pain pirouetted across my torso and back, feeling as if rusty nails had been driven down through the skin. I almost reached down to feel if this was in fact somehow the case, but decided if it was I couldn't do anything about it besides let the heat out. Even with the fire, my breath was clearly visible in the air in front of my face as I panted.
"It's alive," he cackled as I stood blearily and shuffled closer to the heat. Gingerly placing a few new logs on the embers, I turned to survey my frozen hell. The Hammer had admitted that his little mountain hideout wasn‘t a resort, but it was barely habitable - indeed, if I froze to death in a few days, it would pretty much meet the textbook definition for being inhabitable. Little more than a rectangular concrete box, it possessed only three amenities: the aforementioned fireplace, an army cot almost identical to the one I'd been sleeping on in my stall at la ranchita, and a decrepit old table. I had brought a few bags of supplies with me, some food, matches, and oil for the lantern. Someone had obviously been notified of my arrival, because four huge mesh bags hung from the ceiling rafters, each filled with supplies of a still undetermined nature. No electricity, no restroom, and apparently only enough wood to keep a warm-blooded mammal alive for a few days.
"'Left behind like a rainbow in the dark,'" he sang behind me. "They threw you away like a bloody rag. You know this is Gelo going for a soft resolution to the you-problem."
"Maybe," I nodded, trying to figure out what I needed to do in order to survive, and not entirely certain why I was having so much trouble jump-starting the decision-loop.
"Deus vult," he remarked, sounding almost chipper. "Maybe you should ask Him for some help. Though He won't hear your prayers until you tell him you are sorry."
"When He apologizes to me, I'll do the same," I answered, before pausing. "I can't smell the fire." I bent down towards the flames, inhaling deeply.
"Meaningless," he said offhandedly. It wasn‘t meaningless, but I couldn't connect the dots. Wood. That was the important thing. I was told there would be an ax in the cabin, and I assumed it must be in one of the sacks. I trudged over to the first and began poking at it, trying to spin it so the light from the fire illuminated the contents. The first looked to be mostly canned goods and pastries. I could see at least a few cans of some brand of soup that was unknown to me. When I tried to shift the load a bit I winced, so I moved on to the second. This contained more food, boxes and boxes of snack foods plus what looked to be some crates of eggs and a few fat sausages wrapped in plastic. I found the ax inside the third, nestled inside a few dozen brown paper bags. Each mesh bag was suspended by a thick rope that was tossed over exposed wooden beams near the ceiling, with the terminal end of each tied to hooks on the all. It seemed an odd set-up, and I wouldn't discern the reason for it for another few days. Following the line corresponding to the third bag, I moved to the wall and slowly untied it, attempting to let the line play out slowly. You don't realize just how core your core is until you lose it, and at the first tension I released the line with a gasp. The sack plopped onto the concrete gracelessly, and I hoped there hadn't been anything delicate inside.
"Now that's what I'm talking about," he laughed. "Got to love all of that idealistic Emersonian self-reliance shit. 'All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, and to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.'"
"That's Whitman, asshole. Right time, wrong master." He said something in response but I ignored him, rooting around in the sack until I was able to pull out the ax. It was a pleasantly heavy thing, with an oak handle and a leather holster affixed over the blade. In that moment, it seemed imperative that I immediately go outside to chop something down, so I moved to the door and threw it open. The wind tore into me and I halted, confused, suddenly and devastatingly at a loss as to what I was supposed to be doing out there. I looked down at the ax in my hand and then out into the darkness. Some vestige of rationality returned to me and I slammed the door.
"Bah, what a fucking coward," he said behind me as I lifted another few logs onto the fire. "'Is man no more than this? Consider him well.'"
I burrowed back under the blankets, and tried to ignore him. I was circling the drain down into oblivion when it finally came to me. "Anosmia," I blurted out, opening my eyes to stare up at the ceiling. When he didn't answer I shivered.
"That's why I can't smell the fire. My brain...it's..." I stammered, trying to drag a pearl I knew to be important out of the mud. Something about a brain swelling in a skull contracted from the cold. It was there for a flash, then gone. A blurry form effervesced in the shadows above me. Only its eyes were totally visible, shining in the firelight like keyholes into worlds where the worst things always come to pass.
"And there are objects that knock and are never answered, and a ceaseless movement, and a confused name," he whispered, a chorus of chthonic voices sibilating nonsenses on a deeper track.
"You are insane," I managed, before slamming my eyes closed tightly.
"I am wine," his voice spiraled down with the wind. "You, as Yeats might have said, are mere wine-breath."
There was laughter, and then, for a time, there was nothing.
An indeterminate number of hours later, I woke to find sunlight flooding through the two windows on the east wall. I saw there for a time watching the sacks cast strange shadows on the opposite wall, looking like nothing more than gargantuan mutant bats. The fire had mostly burned itself out, and that brought me back to my present peril. I fought my way to my feet and set a few more logs on the fire before stoking the embers. Food, I reasoned. That was now the new first thing. I wasn't hungry but I knew that I needed fuel. Then the ax, I said to myself, which would bring more warmth. As long as I could keep that cycle up, I would make it. I detached the line from the first sack I had surveyed the night before, and it fell heavily to the ground. I dragged this until it was directly underneath the second, the one with the eggs. This fell just as heavily as the first, but it didn't fall as far. I rooted around until I found the thankfully unbroken eggs, a wedge of yellow cheese, and some sausage. I removed a pack of now frozen flour tortillas from one of the bags I had brought with me, plus the shovel. I laid this directly over the embers and fried the eggs on it. I don't know why I did this. There was a perfectly decent disco as well as a small grill right there on the table, but the shovel just insisted upon itself and the circuitry upstairs was still barely avoiding the big 404 Error screen.
I felt a renewed sense of confidence once I was suitably fortified, and put on my jacket. I fished around in my gear until I found a pair of leather work gloves, and put them on. The ax was still where I had left it by the floor, and I felt like manifest destiny personified as I pulled the door open and first surveyed my domain in the light of day. If I had felt like I'd been living in the shadow of mountains in Cerralvo, I was clearly in them now. The Hammer's escondrijo appeared to be situated in a wide valley between several rocky outcroppings. None were high enough to be completely free of trees. Indeed, in a departure from the semi-arid expanses of land around Cerralvo, where nearly everything living was covered in thorns, the land here was covered in trees: some were familiar like oaks and a few pines, while others were beyond my classification abilities. What mattered, I remember thinking at the time, was that they would burn - damn their names. A particularly dense copse stood to my left, near what was very obviously the hideout's well. The sun was out, the sky a deep azure, and while the temperature was still clearly below freezing, I didn't think it would stay that way for long. I felt oddly pleased, again still unable to appreciate just how much damage the barrel of that pistol had done to my head.
The set-up for the well was exactly the same as found at la ranchita, to the extent that I was almost certain it had been drilled by the same firm. I noticed a small spigot roughly eight feet of the ground, just in case I wanted to take a shower and subsequently freeze to death. I decided to pass for the nonce, and headed off towards the west, hoping to find a tree that I could cut while still feeling the warmth of the sun. I found it shortly, a mesquite tree of roughly 15 feet in height. It didn't look too thick, while at the same time easily large enough to provide enough warmth for at least a few days. I steeled myself for the task, practicing swinging the ax in such a way that my arms did most of the work.
"You have to do this," I told myself, broadcasting my best imitation of nonchalant badassery. Then the first blow landed with a heavy thunk, and my chest detonated, feeling like shrapnel had shredded my lungs. I dropped to my knees, the ax left forgotten, wedged firmly in the mesquite. I lay there gasping, willing the pain to pass, oblivious to the tears that were streaming down my cheeks, soon to freeze. In the distance I thought I heard what sounded vaguely like cowbells, but they soon faded away. My knees had grown frigid from the contact with the ground, but I couldn't move. I just gripped myself and stared at the stony earth, imagining myself slowly falling through it, dissolving, into I knew not what.
"These violent delights have violent ends, I see," he said, from somewhere behind me.
"Shit," I gasped.
"Indeed. We were told once that pain is the vaccine against death. You recall? Yes, I know you recall. I'm curious to know if you find this now to be true."
"Please," I begged through clenched teeth. "I can't handle your crazy bullshit right now."
"Crazy bullshit?' Insights into deviant behavior tend to come quickest to those that have a guilty share of them. You know that mesquite is one of the densest woods in the forest."
Did I know that? I had to, I screamed at myself. "You're me...just...just an increase in activity in Broca's or Wernicke's, maybe a swelling of the posterior gyrus of the left hem-"
"I might be as mad as a sack of ferrets, but at least I know enough to aim for that Ochroma lagopus over there if I were attempting to cut down a tree in your condition."
I looked where he was pointing. "I didn't remember balsa looked like that."
"Yes, you did," he said softly.
"Leave me alone," I commanded him.
"Fool," he hissed. “Alone is all you've ever been. All you'll ever be."
I stumbled back to the cabin and slammed the door. I don't even recall falling onto the cot but I must have because I awoke there hours later, shivering as the sun began to set. I staggered outside, collecting fallen branches, sticks, anything to add to the fire that might buy me some time for my body to heal. After an hour or so of this, I had amassed what seemed to be a sizeable pile. I dragged everything inside and sealed the door. I relit the fire and fed it a good meal, and then doddered over to the cot and collapsed. Somehow when I opened my eyes again, the flames had mysteriously put themselves out, but I was too tired to get up and deal with it. Later, I heard bells again and then someone calling out a greeting. I moved clumsily to the window and found it was day again. Several million shaggy goats seemed to be swarming the cabin, and I stared at them glassily for several minutes until I heard a voice again. I looked to the left and saw a man waving at me, but I didn't respond. The glass was old, wrinkled, with occasional fields of small bubbles trapped within various sections. I found if I shifted my head an inch or so, the man would vanish into one of these occlusions. I banished and resummoned him a few times before falling back under the covers. I didn't even bother with the fire at all that night.
Outside, inside: a coma of fog and sleet. My breath seemed to take on a life of it’s own in the starlight, and I played games with it.
"That's probably not going to help much, you know."
"Perhaps not. Tomorrow I might be an icicle, but you will still be a dick."
He nodded. "A cabron nadie me gana."
"Do you ever feel like your perceptions of the things around us have become automated?" I asked.
"Now who's nuts?"
I dispelled him by falling back to sleep, but he kept waking me up.
"Do you remember the bouillabaisse?“ he asked me at one point.
"Bool-ya-baise," I mimicked him, then started laughing until the little pieces of glass under my skin made me stop.
"From Dickens on the Strand, in Galveston. They were cooking it there in that little restaurant right on the street. You wept. Surely you remember
I didn't weep," I responded angrily. "I've never wept a day in my life.”
“Very funny. Cried like a little girl, or at least you wanted to, which is the same thing. They were throwing all of these little crabs in there, and they were still alive. Then they tossed in the lobster. You recall."
"It ate a crab," I said in a dead voice. "It was turning red, and the lobster snatched up one of the little crabs and ate it. And we were just all standing there while the cook tossed in some red pepper."
"Why did you freeze up like that? They yelled at you."
"Because I saw it then. Nobody else was paying attention. Nobody ever pays any attention to anything."
"Yes," he whispered, the saddest voice I'd ever heard.
"Everything's a lie. In the pot was the only truth. It's all just samsara, over and around, always moving, never arriving, forever and ever, Amen," I crossed myself in mockery.
"Right analysis. Wrong conclusion."
"What's to conclude? We're all either the lobster or the crab. Sometimes we get to play both. Better to be the lobster. I'm the crab now."
"No," his voice bled into the wind whistling through the rafters. "It's better to be the cook."
"I was the cook, once. One single time. And I repeated his actions, praying that the god of both lobsters and crabs would show and prove to me that He existed. My only choice."
"No," he said, followed by silence. "You could have put them back in the sea. "That's the only truth."
"Get out!” I shouted.
And he did.
The temperature spiked the next morning, and by noon it was warm enough for me to sit on the doorstep with only one blanket. I felt numb, but also vaguely human for the first time in awhile. My memories of the preceding week paraded with hazy embarrassment through my mind, and for the first time since the beating I was able to comprehend just how seriously messed up I had been. The real question was: had Gelo known I was delusional, or had he attributed my loopiness to the drugs? Because if he had known, then this little excursion really was meant to be a death sentence of the plausibly deniable sort. I would only ever know for certain if nobody ever came to pick me up. Two months, he had said. I decided that I really needed to sit down and organize my supplies, so I knew exactly how much of everything I had. If the end of February came around and nobody had come to retrieve me, I was going to have to hike my way out of here. I had no idea what I would do at that point. Retrieve the rest of my stuff from the taller, and then leave the Hammer and his little narco-paradise behind. It was a plan. Not much of one, but it's a little easier to be knee deep in the trenches if there is at least some ghost of an objective flitting about.
A new problem presented itself as soon as I began to organize my supplies. All around the mesh bags I found tiny crumbs - some from the pastries, others from the tortillas, still more from unidentifiable sources. I stared confusedly at the mess before sifting through some of the packages. I started noticing that many of them had been ripped open in a particularly savage manner, like I'd torn them apart with my incisors. I picked up a nearly empty wrapper of Bimbo "Donas" and found only two of the six inside. Why the hell would I have eaten two thirds a package of donuts? When in the hell had I eaten them? I wondered. I grew increasingly concerned about how much damage I had done to my reserves as I emptied each of the mesh bags. It was almost random, the packages I had dipped into. I was nearly finished with my inventory of the third bag when the last horse finally crossed the finish line: fucking mice! That's why everything had been set up to hang from the rafters, I realized tardily. While I had been sparring with some demented alter ego, my neighbors had been pilfering my loot. A rookie move, I admitted to myself. Stupid. "Survival is not mandatory, idiot," I berated myself, half expecting to hear a voice agreeing with me. Fortunately, only the wind moaned in assent.
Most of the damage was concentrated in the second bag. I separated out the items that had been nibbled on, and placed them in a pile by the door. The clean items I set on the table. The first bag mostly escaped their attention, perhaps because the second sat directly on top of it and nearly covered the opening at the top. I still hadn't even bothered to untie the fourth by this point, and decided to leave it hanging until I could get the first three organized. All told, I'd lost about ten percent of my pastries, one loaf of bread, and some seeds. Amazingly, they hadn't even touched the slabs of cheese wrapped in wax paper, a fact that left me oddly demoralized. It's a sad world when you can't even trust childhood cartoons.
I reorganized the mesh bags in what I perceived to be a more rational manner, and then sat down in the fading light and calculated how much I could eat each day if I had to stay here 70, 80, or 90 days. It was, I thought, either the 21st or 22nd of December. The first of March was therefore either 69 or 70 days down the road. I decided that if no one had shown up by the 5th of March, I was going to take matters into my own hands, so I crossed out the numbers for the 90-day plan and circled the ones for 80. The temperature was plummeting outside, but I felt oddly warmed from the immersion in the world of numbers. They've always done this for me, a tiny plot of certainty in a sea of baseless opinion.
The positive vibes dissipated as I tried and failed to rehang the bags a safe distance from the floor. I was alarmed by the lack of healing that seemed to be going on in my chest, unaware that I was going to be feeling instances of pain in that area for most of the next decade. The best I could do was to push the table over to the rafter and then set the cot up as a ramp. I was able to stand on the other side of the table and use the rope to pull the bags up onto it. From there I hung each of them and tied the rope to the hooks on the wall. I wasn't sure how high a mouse could jump, but I didn't think they could manage more than three feet - and in any case, that was the best I could do so there wasn't any point fretting about it.
I pushed the table over until it was underneath the final bag, and then let it plop down onto its surface. Inside I found more food, some tools, a length of the same rope used to hang the bags, a set of worn but functional cooking knives wrapped in a length of leather, a whetstone, six odd contraptions that would turn out to be rabbit snares, seven bottles of mezcal, and an electric lime green fanny pack. This last seemed particularly out of place. Almost as soon as I touched it, I knew exactly what was inside. Guns have a certain heaviness that may or may not be entirely physical, depending on what you've done with your life. The pack made a heavy thunking sound as I set it down on the table, and I knew. The CZ-75 that l pulled out was from a maker I'd never heard of before, but the thing was well made and well cared for. I found a box with 100 9mm rounds, and when I ejected the clip I found the weapon was already loaded: 10 in the clip, one in the chamber, a killer's load. I stared at the thing for a few minutes before placing it back in the pack. I had no idea what the Hammer thought I might need to shoot out here. If he was planning on leaving me out here to die, this would be the last thing he'd have wanted to put in my hands. Or perhaps he expected me to use it on myself? Either way, it comforted me a little, just having such a thing nearby.
The days passed in numb silence. I contented myself by collecting fallen branches for the fire and by watching the icicles grow from the corners of the roof outside the windows. I set crappy mousetraps of my own design. When those failed, I contented myself by turning on the screen of my iPod when I heard rustling in the packages I'd left out for them. Their little beady eyes would freeze for a few seconds and then they'd be off, little brownish flashes in the gloom. I tracked them to their lair, which was someplace in the recess underneath the fireplace. It was dark as hades back there, and I was in no condition to go spelunking after them. In any case, I figured they had as such right to be there as I did, and left them little snacks as a holiday greeting.
The day after Christmas I began to regain my sense of smell. It wasn't much at first - more the ghost of the scent of smoke than the thing itself, but its return nearly brought tears to my eyes. The weird thing about losing one of your senses is that you can't really feel the loss. You can't explain smell without directly referencing it. Intellectually, I knew there was such a thing as olfaction, and I could remember describing a certain bottle of wine's nose, but in those cases I was accessing memory, not the sense itself. Regaining this was like feeling the world open up into a new dimension. It wasn't all good, as I hadn't taken a shower in a few weeks by this point. The cure for that problem was nearly as bad as the disease, I discovered, as standing under a nearly freezing torrent of water long enough to soap off had me trembling so hard that it felt like my ribcage was going to crack.
I began walking in the afternoons, when temperatures usually settled for a time on the happy side of the freezing point. There were trails all over the place, I discovered, though most appeared to be seldom used. What I didn't see were any fences, not a single one, for miles and miles. Whoever owned this land, I remember thinking, was incredibly wealthy, far richer than Papa Ramos. I eventually found several homesteads sprinkled randomly about the wilderness. Each of these was a testament to the most unrelenting poverty, ramshackle huts that were constructed out of every conceivable form of material, from mud and adobe to plastic, wood, and concrete. My cabin was clearly the nicest building in miles by several orders of magnitude, and I felt a deep species of shame descend upon me that I had ever considered it to be "below" me. I recalled the impact the shantytowns had had on me during my first trip to Monterrey. Why do I need to keep having the same epiphanies over and over again, I lamented. How many times do I need to see a truth before it settles in?
My birthday passed, then New Year's Day. Sometime the following week I managed to cut the balsa tree down without it feeling like an alien was about to burst out of my torso. It felt great to replenish the woodpile rather than take from it, even if the balsa seemed to produce more smoke than actual heat. The experience so emboldened me that the following day I retraced my steps and located the mesquite that I had failed to bring down. It was a bitterly cold day, the sky the color of lead with the sun straining to break through. I prepared myself for the fireworks, and then swung. Pain came, of course, but not so much that I couldn't handle it, even enjoy it a little as proof of life. And despite the cold and my injuries, the ax dug deeper and deeper, and with it, my confidence soared. I began to taunt the tree, my giddiness overwhelming my good sense.
"Not so tough now, are you Mr Mes-kee-tay?" I mocked it, digging the blade out after a particularly deep wound. "Thought you had me a few weeks ago, didn't you? I'm going to eat over your burning corpse tonight, you bastard."
"Porque estas hablando con un arbol?" The voice interrupted my gloating, the first actual words I'd heard in weeks from a mouth other than my own. I turned to see a man standing roughly twenty feet away. He was accompanied by a few dozen goats, who seemed content to munch on the bushes, thorns and all, and leave crazy lumberjacks to their own devices. I considered the shepherd’s question, and then lifted up my sweater to show him the still livid bruises that marched across the map of my chest. He winced a little at the sight. "Because I need to pretend that this isn't hurting like a son-of-a-bitch," I told him in Spanish. He sat there for a moment, before nodding and sitting down on a large boulder. He was clothed in a sweatshirt, old jeans, and a hooded jacket, everything a dull gray color, as if all he owned had had the color either bleached away by the sun or ripped away by the wind. He wore strange animal hide straps around his wrists and lower legs, an almost medieval addition to his wardrobe. He removed several foil wrapped packages from an animal hide satchel and set them down on a handkerchief before looking at me and pointing to his mouth. I hesitated, still watching him. His hands looked corrugated and the skin on his face almost like parchment. I wanted to like him instantly, but when you are a fugitive on the run from two different governments, it's basically a truism that you are going to end up liking more people than you can trust. Equally true is that you are going to need to trust more people than will ever be comfortable to you, and the trick is figuring out how to juggle these concerns. After another moment's pause I went and sat down next to him. He offered me a taco, clearly made from a former member of the very herd that was currently munching on the underbrush around us, before removing a battered thermos and a tin cup. He poured me some bitter coffee in the cup, and then drank straight from the thermos. I nearly smiled at the sheer pastorality of the scene, but I kept this to myself in case I offended my guest.
After our repast we merely sat there for a time in the sun. If the shepherd was angry with me for blowing him off the day he waved to me, he never said so. Neither did he ask me who I was or what I was doing there, even though he had to be at least peripherally aware of who owned the cabin I was staying in. For all I knew, all of this belonged to the Hammer or his bosses (whoever they were), and the homesteads I located on my hikes existed because of his benevolence. Once this thought crossed my mind, I remembered how the narcos at the coyuntura had allowed the local peasants to profit greatly from their presence, how this ensured their loyalty, if not their outright devotion. Maybe this shepherd was waiting for a similar act of noblesse oblige, I thought, giving him a renewed inspection. If this was the case, he was being very coy about it, just sitting there contentedly and occasionally calling to his flock.
I excused myself and told him not to run off. Looking through my meager supplies, I tried to decide what a poor mountain shepherd might care to eat. Then I remembered the mezcal, and decided he could do worse than a warming drink; it was certainly better than a bunch of refined sugar, so I unlatched the appropriate sack and selected a bottle. As an afterthought I grabbed another pack of donas and returned outside. The man's eyes lit up when he saw the bottle, and happily emptied out the tin cup on the ground.
"Eeey-guey-su-pinche-madre!“ he exclaimed after taking his first swig. The stuff went down like a smart bomb wrapped in a cloak of battery acid and left my eyes watering. I poured him a few more cups before he wiped his hands over his face and then stood, needing a moment to find his balance. He smiled at me, and I only saw a few teeth. This reminded me of the donuts, and how I was going to be responsible for him losing what few he had left, but I couldn't just not give him the things since I'd clearly brought them out there for him. He accepted them graciously, before lifting the packet close to his eyes. He spent a long moment with them pressed almost to the tip of his nose, as if he were a priest communing with the gods of sugar desserts. Finally he dropped them into his satchel. "Para mis hijas," he said, smiling, before whistling for his goats. They obeyed him to a degree that was almost canine in nature; a thing I didn't know was possible.
He waved one last time and started off to the south. I picked up the bottle and watched him go. This was the longest stretch of time in my life that I had been without human contact, and it amazed me how empty I felt as he departed.
"Oye!" I called after him, trying to keep the desolation settling upon me out of my voice. "How art thee called?" I asked, deploying the seldom utilized vosotros tense to show respect.
"Me apodan Juan el Chivero!"
"Me llamo es...Conrad," I stumbled, a little unsure which alias to use.
"Conrad el mezcalero, es mucho gusto de conocerte!" he shouted, laughing at his own joke, before moving down the ravine.
And so it was that I met Juan the goatman, quite possibly the only man in all of northern Mexico completely without a shred of guile.
To be continued...
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