Tag Archives: Chief Writing Wolf

My Debut Novel – “The Silent Fountain”

The Chief is happy to announce the upcoming publication of my first completed novel, “The Silent Fountain”, courtesy of Book Baby – an independent firm based in Pennsauken, New Jersey.  It will be available in both print and electronic versions by mid-December 2018.  Once I confirm the actual publication date, I will issue another formal announcement.

To family and friends who have known of my literary dreams for decades and heard me speak of this for so long (too long actually), yes finally, it is now becoming a reality!  Following what seems like a lifetime of promises, it IS happening.  Now, aren’t you glad you waited!

After some two decades of writing and rewriting; plotting and planning; submitting and getting rejected; hoping and praying; and slaving over hot pencils and hotter keyboards, it is all coming to fruition.  It took a while (to put it mildly), but I have kept my promise to all of you.

“The Silent Fountain” is best classified as a paranormal romance – emphasis on paranormal.  I don’t do romance very well – either in literature or real life.  I came up with the story idea around 1996 and first submitted it to a traditional publisher in 2001.  The publisher, a university-based imprint that shall go unnamed, specializes in fiction and non-fiction from both published and unpublished writers of Hispanic heritage, with a focus on all things Hispanic or Latino.  The company stated in their mission that they strive to combat stereotypes about Latinos and to give a voice to a group that has otherwise been ignored by the mainstream press and the literary world.

I felt “The Silent Fountain” met that criteria.  As my blog followers should know by now, I am definitely of Hispanic heritage.  I’ve been fighting stereotypes about Latinos my entire life.  Most of the characters in “The Silent Fountain” are Hispanic; yet don’t fit the Hollywood mold of how we behave and what we look like.  They’re not gang-bangers or low-riders; they’re not violent, alcoholic, dim-witted and sexually-obsessed cretins; and they’re not illiterate fools who snuck across the U.S. border in the middle of the night with a handful of clothes stuffed into plastic bags.

The people in my novel are educated, smart and possess the amazing ability to speak perfect English.  Most are native-born Texans who own and operate a real estate conglomerate; live in a large, century-old, well-appointed home; listen to classical music; and wear nice clothes.  They are much like my own relatives and other Latinos I’ve known and worked with over the nearly six decades of my life on Earth.

But that university turned it down, giving me the most classic of all literary rejections: it didn’t meet “their needs at this time.”  I got the same response from the seven other publishing houses where I submitted the novel.  One editor actually returned the manuscript with a note declaring the “characters are too implausible” because of their wealth and Hispanic ethnicity.  “The average reader won’t believe that,” they told me.  I replied with a letter to that editor (which I know sounds childish and unprofessional) telling them I write for smart people anyway.  They didn’t reply.

After taking a closer look at the type of books and essays the university imprint publishes and distributes, I realized why they turned me down.  I’m not some pathetic wetback who made their way to the U.S. via a harrowing journey across vast expanses of deserts and mountains atop an aging train; thus, neither are my characters.  I don’t know many people like that anyway.  I’ve spent my life avoiding people who are illiterate and don’t care about the sanctity of U.S. law.  My book also isn’t a saccharine-laced tale told in a first-person narrative by a young child who grew up in huts with no shoes and little schooling; yet still has the ability to comprehend everything that’s going on around them and are subsequently able to offer their elders sensible explanations on how to deal with critical issues.  This is not a children’s picture book with verbiage sweet enough to give you cavities.  In fact, there are no children in my novel.  Moreover, it’s a paranormal romance with some sexual activity and foul language.  So, while they look for Hispanic-oriented literary works by Hispanic authors that defy mainstream stereotypes, I feel they essentially created a stereotypical classification for themselves.  And, as usual, I didn’t fit into it.  But that’s okay.  People have always tried to place me in a box to make themselves comfortable with who they think I am or should be and ended up failing.  Such as happened in this case.

Upon starting this blog in 2012, I had to sit back and reconsider where I wanted my writing ventures to go.  Did I want to attempt the traditional route again?  Go through the same decades-old procedures for contacting a publishing house?  Between 2001 and 2012, it seemed the list of book publishers had dwindled.  Publishing has fallen victim to the same corporate evil as banks did in the 1990s and IT firms did in the last decade: mergers and acquisitions.

By 2012, however, self-publishing had become a more popular route for average writers.  In fact, self-publishing has come a long way from the vanity press market several years ago; the last resort road for luckless writers.  Growth of that beloved monstrosity known as the Internet gave storytellers a more direct path to seeing their words in print.  And thus, I made my decision.  And here I am.

Below is a synopsis of the novel, which is the verbiage that will appear on the back cover.

 

Juan Miguel de la Montana lives a quiet life as a single man, spending his personal time reading, exercising, listening to music and drinking white wine. But his carefully-structured routine is interrupted when he learns of the death of an old college friend.  He attends the funeral and planned to return home quickly. He didn’t expect to encounter another college friend at the grave site, much less strike up a conversation and then meet him for dinner. He certainly didn’t expect the man to invite him to a nearby ranch estate where he’s vacationing with friends, much less accept the offer.

Yet, once there, Juan Miguel feels pleasantly overwhelmed – and begins to enjoy the company of the estate’s owners, the Santiago family, and their colorful friends. Black orchids, a blue-eyed cat, lilac perfume and a long-dormant water fountain slip into his subconscious and initially mean nothing to him. But, just as Juan Miguel falls in love with his new friends and the ranch’s bucolic surroundings, he’s unprepared to fall in love with Esperanza, a Santiago relative.

And, it doesn’t seem to matter that she died sixty years ago.

 

I’m dedicating this book to my parents, George and Guadalupe De La Garza, who tolerated more from me than most reasonable people would have.  My father especially helped me with the Spanish translations; we’d spend an hour or more on the phone.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t make a more concerted effort to get this thing published before he died in 2016.  And my mother’s mental health has deteriorated to the point where she probably doesn’t remember me talking about it much.

So, if there’s one piece of advice I can give to anyone, it’s NEVER put off what you can do as soon as possible.  I always said that life got in the way.  But I finally realized life wasn’t getting in the way.  I was letting it get in the way.  My writing and my dreams have always been a part of my persona.  But I kept putting them on hold to take care of other stuff.  Don’t do that!  Your best dreams can never die, but the people you love the most eventually do.

 

Image by J.L.A. De La Garza

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The Chief at 51

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Wow! I’m 51 today. That’s more than half a century. So, what? I feel pretty good. I’m certainly glad to make it to this age. The alternative isn’t pleasant. I think of the few people I know who died well before 51 and I certainly can’t be thankful enough that I’ve lived this long. Each day I wake up gives me another chance to make my life better.

I do have a few simple wishes:

  • That my parents’ health improves long enough for me to get their life stories on video. They’re not celebrities, but they’ve led some interesting lives and have some great tales to share.
  • That my dog lives a few more years. He’s 12 now, which apparently puts him in the same age bracket as my parents. He’s only the second dog I’ve ever own, but he’s made realize what’s important in life.
  • To get my novel published within the next few months. I’ve worked on this thing longer than most DVD players have been around, so it’s way past time to get it into print. Being a professional, published writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life anyway. I know it’s a tough business, but I can imagine no better profession for me.
  • To see my freelance writing career take off. Business or technical writing is the second greatest passion I have – somewhere after lifting weights and sleeping nude.
  • To find a box with $1 million in cash somewhere on the side of the road.

Okay, maybe getting my novel published now is a bit of a stretch. But who says we can’t dream extravagantly?

I don’t know why I’ve made it to this age, nor do I know why I’ve gone through all the crap I’ve experienced. I’ll find out one day. But it’s brought me here. And my life isn’t done yet. I don’t know how much longer I have, but I want to make up for all the lost years of being terrified of the future. Here’s to more time on Earth with the people I love and care for the most!

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One Year Update: The Chief Almost Kills Himself

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Today officially marks one year since my near-fatal accident here at the house. Some of you might remember: I slipped on a wet spot on the linoleum floor the atrium in my parents’ home while carrying a gallon glass jug of iced tea. My feet literally went out from under me. Being airborne for a split second allowed my entire body to rotate 180 degrees and land face down on the floor; two shards of glass from the shattered jug piercing my right arm. After a three-day stay at Hotel Parkland, I returned home with multiple stitches, no feeling in my right hand and an overwhelming desire to bathe for two or three hours. I was still pissed that I wasted half a jug of that herbal tea because I didn’t watch where the hell I was going. It’s amazing how a simple misstep can be so life-changing.

I had surgery last September 13 – a Friday, to be certain – and I’m just now starting to regain function and feeling in the right ring and little fingers. The hand surgeon had told me it would probably take up to a year to regain full functionality and sensation – if that happens at all. At the rate I’m going, I figure I might get up to 75% by this September. It’s a good thing I can do a lot with my left hand. I always knew being bi-manual would come in…well, handy some day.

I note that my accident was near-fatal because of the severity of the wound in my upper right arm and the amount of blood loss. If my father hadn’t wrapped a towel tightly around it, just beneath the elbow, I could have bled to death. The only other thing I had going for me was that the glass cut a vein and not an artery. If it had cut an artery – well, let’s just say I’d have to change the name of my blog to “Chief Writing Spirit.” That would give a whole new meaning to the term “ghost writing.”

I’m fortunate, though, very fortunate. I managed to survive and live to see my 50th birthday last November. I still have great parents and a great dog, plus a good collection of close friends. I consider military veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and realize I don’t have much to complain about. Why does it take such catastrophic events to make people realize how good they actually have it? I don’t know. I guess we need to get shaken up like that – sometimes shaken up badly, in a bloody painful way – to understand life can be good most of the time.

So, as I mark this unwanted first anniversary of stupid accident and a difficult recovery, I continue writing and enjoying the people I love the most. But, damnit, I’m still pissed off about wasting that perfectly good herbal tea!

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I’m Just Not Ready to Let You Go

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“Oh, yes,” my mother moaned, exasperated. “Just take me. Please, just let me go. Take me now.”

She’d consumed several Tylenol Migraine pills to quell yet another relentless headache that prevented her from sleeping, and my father had admonished her.

“You’re going to overdose and die!” he said matter-of-factly, as if he was a cardiologist talking to an obese man who’d just had open-heart surgery and still refused to give up beer and hamburgers.

“That’s fine,” my mother replied, equally blunt. “I’ve had enough.”

My dog, Wolfgang, looked at all of us, as we stood in my parents’ bedroom in the pre-dawn hours of some nondescript weekday. He finally sauntered back into my room and curled up with his towel. He’d always had a fetish for towels.

In the spring of 2005, I’d lived and worked in Oklahoma; laboring on a special project for the engineering company where I worked at the time. Wolfgang had stayed with my parents throughout most of that period, except for the month of May when I decided to bring him with me. Instead of flying into Tulsa and renting a car to drive to the work site, as we’d normally done, I’d rented a vehicle in suburban Dallas and drove up to Northeastern Oklahoma on a Sunday night. I just didn’t want to put him on a plane for a 30-minute flight just to end up in a car for an hour anyway.

One evening, as I sat at the desk in the room, scouring over my laptop, I noticed Wolfgang strolling out of the bathroom – a damp, dirty hotel towel in his mouth. I had a small pile of towels beneath the sink. I didn’t allow housekeeping into the room, unless I was there. I didn’t want to take the chance that Wolfgang would dart from the room in a frenzy and somehow make it out of the hotel into highly unfamiliar territory. I’d grown too attached to him by then; only two years after I’d taken custody of him from a troubled ex-roommate.

A few minutes later I looked again at him and was startled to see all of those damp towels stacked in front of the closet. He’d literally hauled every one of them out of the bathroom and then plopped down in front of the stack. I chuckled. Dogs do the funniest things sometimes; things only they fully comprehend and amuse we befuddled humans.

He was almost three back then. Now, he was eleven and just didn’t want to be bothered by the drama we bipedals have the tendency to create. I turned back to my parents. My father merely stared at the lamp on a nightstand, while mother rubbed her forehead; more out of frustration, I suspected, than pain.

I massaged my forehead, too. At their age, they were enduring – sometimes just tolerating – the physical quandaries of a long life. My mother with her headaches; my father with his acid reflux. On nights – mornings – like this, they sometimes openly wished they’d just die. They were tired; they’d had enough. I heard Wolfgang sigh.

There’s a price to pay for living so many years. You get to experience a number of different things. Hopefully, most are good, but for certain, many are bad. Regardless, at some point during that time, you fall in love; you laugh; you dream; you enjoy good food and beverages; you dance; you ogle at sunsets and sunrises; you may have children; you might have a pet; you become sad; you get angry; you work; you get sick; you drive a vehicle; you fall and break something; you meet all sorts of people; and you die. You can’t possibly live as long as my parents have and not go through a few bumps and bruises. You don’t even live to be my age – 50 – and experience some of that.

Last summer Wolfgang fell mysteriously ill. I was recuperating from a freak accident here at the house in which I’d severely damaged my right arm and hand. For some reason, amidst my frustrating recovery and exhaustive job searches, Wolfgang became incredibly lethargic; he’d yelp if he barked. Even the slightest growl seemed to hurt him. Then, he began urinating spontaneously, as if he’d grown so old he couldn’t control his bladder. My priorities shifted – and I thought back eleven years.

In August of 2002, my then-roommate Tom* had to put his miniature schnauzer, Zach, to sleep. In the few days preceding his demise, Zach began throwing up and urinating uncontrollably. His body shrunk so much we could see his ribs. It turned out he had a kidney infection. If Tom had gotten Zach to a vet in time, he probably could have saved him. Shortly after Zach’s death, Tom got a new puppy; the one I’d adopt when we parted ways in January 2003 and would rename Wolfgang. Zach had been 11 when he died, and I wondered last summer if Wolfgang was facing his mortality. His vet diagnosed a mild intestinal infection; an ailment a couple of shots resolved. But, it was a frightening week – for all of us. I caressed Wolfgang’s downy ears one night and whispered, “You can’t leave me now. I’m not ready to let you go.” And, I wasn’t and I’m still not.

My father sat near his computer one evening last fall, after doctors had confirmed that his acid reflux was more critical than anyone had realized. His gastroenterologist had referred him to a colleague who – unbeknownst to her – wasn’t accepting new patients. He referred my father to a younger colleague; a doctor who, although pleasant and affable, looked like he’d just graduated from high school. My father said bluntly on this one particular evening that he was waiting for his parents to come get him.

“No,” I said, “not now. I’m not ready for that.”

My father and I want to write a book about our family history. On his mother’s side, we are descendants of Queen Isabella of Spain, the woman who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage westward across the Atlantic. On his father’s side, we are descendants of Spanish noblemen who first arrived in what is now South Texas in 1585. My father began doing genealogical research in 1990 as a hobby; a way to spend the free time he’d encountered while working part-time at a printing shop. He’d been a full-time employee since before I was born. Then, in 1989, the company owner laid off him and a few others; only to rehire them as contract employees. The genealogy metamorphosed from a quaint past time to a heartfelt passion. The book I want to write with him would be a true labor of love. I couldn’t do it alone.

“I talk to Margo sometimes,” my mother revealed one day. Her older sister died of cancer in 1989 at the age of 59. “I talk to her when I’m ironing, or doing the dishes, or folding towels.”

That, I realized, provided her with a sense of normalcy. Like my father, my mother has never lived alone. She’s always been with someone. She came from a time when women got married young and had a family. Career women were alien creatures; unmarried women without children were subhuman. When I was born, my father didn’t want her to return to work – ever. But, she did – and retired at the age of 70.

I get so frustrated with everything here – bouncing back and forth between my parents’ all-consuming ailments, my unpaid student loans, recycled resumes – that I want to grab Wolfgang and everything I could pack into my truck and just go. Leave. Run away. Far away. Some place no one knows me. And, start all over.

I can’t. I just can’t. It’s not a question of fortitude or finances. It’s a matter of love and commitment. I can’t forsake the people who brought me into this world.

“I think I’m going to die in this house,” I told a close friend over lunch at a favorite restaurant.

“What’s wrong with that?” he replied, looking at me as if though I dreaded such a day.

“Nothing! I’m just saying I think I’ll die in that house – alone.”

Hopefully, alone – meaning no dogs will be trapped in here with me. I never got married and had children and I’ve never had any long-term relationships. But, I see a future as a secluded writer with dogs rescued from shelters.

Wolfgang will be 12 in a couple of weeks, and my parents bide their time; my mother doing crossword puzzles, and my father digging through ancient church documents. Sometime, I’ll have to let them all go.

But, not just yet.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

A “tango lily” from our back yard.

*Name changed.

© 2014

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One Is for You

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All these lies you’ve thrown in my face? From the moment we first met, when you looked into my amber eyes and proclaimed your unrequited love for me, I now realize you’re nothing more ingenious than a charlatan. Stupid me, though! My battered soul stood open like an untreated gunshot wound; vulnerable to even the most inconspicuous of viral agents. Blind from years of isolation and self-pity, I relinquished the last vestiges of my trust and dignity to you.

Now, you do this to me? You turn on me like a rabid dog? I suppose you thought I could be yet another toy in your playroom. Telling me our age differences mattered not one bit to you; reassuring me that you could look beyond my sagging skin and gray hairs. Seduced by your gentle words, I felt I had no choice.
Oh, God, I just knew you were different from all the others who entered my life. You were so kind to me; your gentle words as sweet and irresistible as a flower’s nectar are to a bee. How did you know I floundered in such a fragile state? How could you tell my modesty was actually bitter self-loathing? I suppose that’s just one of your many attributes. You know how to find the vulnerable ones.

But, all of that stops now. You’ll never do that to me or anyone else ever again. Your games have ended. Oh, my God! What a beautiful sunrise! Look at it! Yes, turn your head and take a good, long look at it.

It’s the last one we’ll ever see together.

There are two bullets in this gun.

One is for you.

© 2014

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The Day My Mother Told Me I Almost Wasn’t Born

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“I almost lost you before you were born – twice.” How do you respond to something like that from your own mother?  Especially when you’re only 9 or 10 years old?  I don’t recall what started the conversation.  My parents never held back when it came to subjects like babies and sex. I don’t know what brought us into that discussion, but my parents were incredibly forthright about such things. They figured I should find out from them, rather than from kids at school, television, or anywhere else. I certainly wouldn’t learn the truth about babies and sex from the Catholic parochial school I attended in the 1970s. Deep down inside the Catholic hierarchy knows that sex is pretty much how humans have reproduced for millennia, but openly hates it.

Once, when I was about 10 or 11, I asked my parents what happened in X-rated movies, and they told me “people run around naked” and use dirty words.  Which, if you think about it, pretty much sums up an X-rated film.  At some point, I’d asked my dad what an orgasm meant, and he flat out told me.  He’d even told me – before my teens – what a condom was and how to put on one.

So it only made sense that my mother would point out bluntly that she’d come close to losing me in utero. The first episode occurred in August of 1963, when she was about seven months pregnant and was at the funeral of her beloved maternal grandmother. My mother had become faint as she stood at the grave site, beneath the scorching Texas sun. At the time my parents lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment above the garage behind the house owned my father’s oldest sister, Amparo, and her husband – a place where we’d stay until my parents bought a house in suburban Dallas in 1972. Amparo had told my father that my mother didn’t look good and decided to accompany them to the funeral. Already expecting her own child, my aunt sat waiting in the limousine with a jar of cold water. After returning home, my mother began bleeding profusely. My father rushed her to the hospital where they saved her – saved both of us.

The second episode happened just two months later. One fall afternoon, my mother developed a fever, and inexplicably wondered outside into a rainstorm. Amparo was startled to see her and ordered her husband to retrieve my mother from their driveway. He brought her inside, and my aunt put her into a bed and watched over her until my father returned home from work.

Perhaps it’s because what my mother told – describing every excruciating moment of her pregnancy and my birth – that I understood, from a very young age, how fragile life is.  Aside from my seemingly inborn shyness, it may explain why I wasn’t aggressive like my parents; why I never liked to fight; why I always tried to negotiate and compromise instead.  It’s why I appreciate the smaller things in life – like the sound of rain or my dog’s breathing when he’s sleeping.

In the mid-1990s, when I worked at a major bank in downtown Dallas, one of my female colleagues, Felicia*, often lamented how her two younger sons seemed to take her for granted. Her older son was the model child: married with children and an active duty member of the U.S. Navy. But, her other sons, both teens at the time, were always doing something stupid. One day, at lunch, Felicia* mentioned that she’d almost miscarried her second son in a women’s room of that very building some seventeen years earlier. She’d become light-headed, she recalled, as I and a few others sat with rapt attention. Another woman escorted her to the ladies’ room where Felicia dropped onto a toilet and was certain she was about to lose that pregnancy; she was only about six or seven weeks along. The other woman ran out to tell their male supervisor about the dilemma. He called paramedics who rushed Felicia to a nearby hospital. Somehow, she and her unborn child – that second son who would later metamorphose into a conceited teenage brat – survived.

I asked Felicia if she’d ever told him about that. She said no; that she didn’t want to upset him with something so traumatic. I scoffed at the notion. “You need to tell him about that,” I implored. Describe how she’d collapsed in pain and managed to stagger into the women’s room; tell him that he almost ended up in the toilet of a downtown Dallas building. That, I assured her, would put his life into perspective.

A few weeks later, she pulled me aside to say she’d done just that recently; she told her son everything that happened that one afternoon; that she’d almost lost him in a women’s room of the bank – lost him before she even knew his gender, or had given him a name.  She reveled in the sight of the light bulbs going off in his eyes.

And, that’s when life comes into perspective. That’s when you understand how delicate everything is.

*Name changed.

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Screams in the Sky

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I heard it first as a shrill, piercing sound in the back of my head; like an eagle flying far overhead.  Then, it grew louder, and I looked up from the mass of crabs in the basket.  I glanced briefly at everyone around me.  They all remained unperturbed.  In fact, it seems they didn’t hear anything.  Had they all suddenly gone deaf?

My dog, Amoxtli (“protection” in my native Náhuatl), was the only other one to notice.  He was trembling; his yellow-gold eyes spiraling in fear.

I turned again to the sky again.  Something came roaring from the east; from beyond the mountains and over the buildings of the town.  It streaked overhead – a whitish glow that left a deep orange ribbon against the pre-dawn blueness.

Amoxtli started moaning.  He was genuinely scared – and he didn’t frighten easily.

What was that?  A star?  It couldn’t have been a bird.  The orange ribbon started to deepen in color, and I thought it would fade.  But then, it began turning red.  Blood red.

I swallowed hard, and my heart was pounding.

Amoxtli was reaching towards me with a paw.  ‘Please hold me,’ he seemed to be saying.  He was terrified.  And, so was I.

“Cuetlachtli,” I heard someone say.

I didn’t pay attention. I was concerned about that sound – and the red mark in the sky.

“Cuetlachtli!”  It was my father.  “What’s wrong with you?!”  He rarely shouted at anyone.  His voice was strong and deep enough to command respect.  When he did shout, someone was in serious trouble.

I grasped one of Amoxtli’s paws and caressed his tawny face.  What did he know?

My eyes swept onto my father.  “The crabs are crawling out of the basket,” he said, pointing downward.

I looked at them.  Yes, they were starting to crawl back out.  In fact, they seemed to running for their lives.  But, I didn’t care.  “Did you hear that?” I finally asked.

“Hear what?” my father replied.

“That sound!”  I pointed upwards.  “Look at the sky!”

The bloody streak was fading.

Everyone nearby had ceased gathering crabs and turned to me.  They looked angry.  I had disrupted the work.  But, I didn’t care.  I knew that screaming light meant something.  I looked eastward, once more over the mountains.

The sun hadn’t fully risen.  The sounds of the waves had replaced the clack-clack of the crabs and the light conversation.  All else seemed silent.  Everyone’s eyes burnished into me.

But, when I looked again over the distant mountains, something else startled me.  Peering into the cream-orange horizon, I saw an object.  Something was moving against the sky.  I realized, after a moment, it was a large beast; a strange-looking creature with pointed ears and eyes on either side of its face.  I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Then, I realized there was something else with it, or behind it.  I studied it more closely.  It was sitting on the animal; it was a man.  He was an equally strange-looking man with an odd, dome-shaped contraption on his head.  He held a large narrow object in one hand.

As I stared at him, he lifted up the object and pointed it forward – pointed it at me.

I squinted.  What is that?  Who is he?  Why is he so large – hovering above the mountains?

Then, another thundering sound, another screaming light flew out from that object in his hands – towards me.  The sound of it hurt my ears.  And, the bright flash almost blinded me.

“What’s wrong with you?!” my father yelled.

I wish I could tell him.  I really wish I could tell him.

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Náhuatl

© 2014

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