Just A Little Faster

Her heart raced faster than her feet pounding the concrete.  Never had she run so fast, not even across the scorching dirt just south of the border.  She wore plastic sandals then.  Now she had canvas shoes—white, with blue stars.

Elena’s stride stretched from line to line on the sidewalk, but she paid no attention to where her feet landed.  She didn’t hear the sounds of traffic passing, or the voices of the people who jumped out of her way.   She gasped for air as cold dread squeezed her chest.

Just a little faster…

She reached the parking lot of the apartment building and skidded to a stop.  There was an ominous silence hanging over the place.  Elena ducked behind the long line of huge trees, pressing her slight frame against the thick trunk of the tree closest to the building.  Her chest heaved against the rough bark.

There were no unfamiliar cars in the parking lot.  No mysterious dark sedans, no police cars with their lights flashing.  But there were also no children playing in the shady patch of grass in the large courtyard.  No one tossing a ball, barbecuing, shooting hoops, gossiping on the stairs between apartments.

Elena eased around the trunk, then sprinted to her front door.  She pushed her key in the lock and shoved the door open.  Her heart nearly leapt into her throat and she could barely raise her voice to call out.

“Mama?”

She pushed the door closed silently and inched toward the kitchen.  A shadow swept across the floor and Elena cowered against the wall.

“Mija?  What are you doing home?  It is so early?”

Elena gasped at the sound of the comfortingly familiar voice, as if she hadn’t taken a breath for hours.  She leapt into her mother’s embrace, stretching her thin arms around her mother and baby brother carried snugly upon her mother’s back.  The hot tears she fought so hard to control coursed down her cheeks.

“I heard…” she panted.  “The raids…ICE…”

“Oh, Mija,” her mother whispered into her disheveled hair.  “I am here.  It’s okay.”

Cocooned in her mother’s arms, Elena’s pulse slowed just a bit.  Baby Juan’s contented gurgles spilled into her ears, pushing away some of the panic.  She sucked in a deep breath.

And then she thought of her father.  Heat flashed through her as she remembered the embarrassment she often felt when she had to tell her father the things her teachers said.  Because he didn’t always understand.  Because he barely spoke English.  Elena pushed back from her mother.

“Where is Papa?” she whispered.

Elena stared desperately into her mother’s brown eyes.  And she saw it.  The cold fear that sent her fleeing from school that afternoon.  Elena’s gaze dropped for a moment, to the blue stars on her feet.  Her mother’s soft voice drew her eyes back up.

“He is at work, Mija.”

She didn’t watch the tear drop land, didn’t see it hit the center of a blue star on the toe of her canvas shoe.

“Why?  Why did he go today?”

“He has no choice.  He would lose his job.”

Never again, Elena thought.  Never again would she feel shame when she had to speak for her father. If only…if he would just come home.  Whistling along the walk outside the apartment.  Tugging her pony tail as he came through the door.  Stretching out his arms to grab Juan as her mother held the smiling baby out to him.

Elena squeezed her eyes shut tight.  She pictured him, so many years ago, his sparkling eyes dancing with energy.  He would wave his arms around and spring from foot to foot as he spoke.

“We will go to America,” he would declare.  “In America, we won’t fear the scary men anymore, Mija.  In America, they have this statue, and on it are the words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’  We will be safe there.”  She believed him then.

She still believed him as they crouched in the sage brush along the banks of the Rio Grande, soaking wet and shivering in the desert heat.  Hiding from the men with guns.  “Run, Mija,” he whispered.  “Just a little faster.”

Elena heard his voice echoing in her mind.  She felt her mother’s fingers push her sweat-soaked hair back from her cheek.   Baby Juan cooed and beat his fists on her mother’s back.  Elena’s mother whispered softly.

“He will come home, Mija.  He will be here.  We are safe here.”

But they really weren’t, Elena knew.  She could hear it in her mother’s voice.  She could see it in her eyes.   She could feel it in the oppressive silence surrounding the apartment building where everyone was hiding inside.

Before, it was the men with guns and drugs who beat her father and hurt her mother.  Now it was the men in uniforms emblazoned with big white letters on the back.  They would come, and they would take Baby Juan away and send her and her parents back to the terrifying streets they fled years ago.

She could never run fast enough.  Not even in her star-studded canvas shoes.

******

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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Happy Hal-idays!

It looks like I’ll have a white Christmas tomorrow as snow fell hard today, covering the dirt piles, rebar, and concrete blankets in our construction-zone yard.  It hasn’t felt like Christmas here yet as we haven’t had a tree up until today and very few decorations out.  This December has been even busier than usual, but the snow brought with it a peace and calm, and finally, finally, I feel ready for tomorrow.  But, once again, I didn’t plan ahead to prepare any sort of holiday post full of cheer and goodwill.  Of course, I don’t usually write much cheer and goodwill, that doesn’t quite fit the genre.

War, torture, assassinations, arms trafficking, organized crime, child abuse:  these are the dark, difficult subjects I usually write about.  I write about them because it gives voice to the anger they fuel in me.  But spending so much time steeped in research and writing about such things requires that I also nurture a healthy sense of humor for the sake of my sanity.

My favorite writing buddies, my sisters, help me out with that a lot.  Awhile back, we got started laughing over a name.  I asked them to help me name a character in my novel who is an actor playing a detective in a hot new prime time cop show, and one of the first suggestions was Hal.  Which really made me laugh.  It also resulted in a series of back-and-forth messages between me and my sisters, heckling each other and cracking puns using the name Hal.  In the end, the challenge was made to name a character Hal in each of our works in progress.  (Yes, there is now a Hal in The Compass Code, but I doubt every reader will find him.)

This challenge resulted in me writing a silly scene that has no place in my novel, but does involve some of my characters.  I call it The Hal Scene.  I don’t generally find it useful to utilize writing exercises or prompts to write scenes that will never be part of my novel or it’s immense back story.  I’ve always found that to be a frustrating endeavor.  It feels like wasted time to me.  I want to write what I’m going to use.  But, once in a while, I’ll get an inspiration, and I just have to “waste” the time it takes to put the words down on the page.  The Hal scene is one such moment.

Since it’s Christmas, and because I’m well into a third draft of The Compass Code (with chapters!), and because I’ve never shared any of my fictional work outside of a small group of people and I have to get over the fear, I’ve decided to share The Hal Scene with my readers.  Just for fun.

I have to warn though, this scene does not reflect the tone of The Compass Code at all.  I didn’t write this scene with any intention of ever plugging it into the novel.  I wrote it to make myself and my sisters laugh.  So, dear readers of this post, please don’t expect so much humor from my novel, because the novel really is about war, assassinations, torture, etc.

It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it.  So, I hope this silly scene brings some smiles and laughs to my readers this holiday season.  May the Christmas holiday and the New Year bring you much laughter, joy and peace.

So, without further ado…

(Except, please note, this post contains adult language.)

The Hal Scene

              Seth Miller burst into the barracks whooping and yelling, startling everyone awake.  It was so early it was still dark outside and several of the men threw pillows at him as he danced a jig between the bunks.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, man?  You wasted?”  Turner growled.

“It’s a boy!” Seth yelled.  “I knew it.  It’s a boy!”

With that, none of them could resist his unbridled joy and he ran around the room giving high fives and fist bumps while they all congratulated him.  Bulldog jumped from his bunk and grabbed Seth into a bear hug.

“That’s great, man,” he said as he released Seth.  “You guys are so blessed.”

Jack offered his fist, and Seth cracked his own against it.  Turner rolled out of his bunk grudgingly, and put an arm around Seth’s shoulders while clapping him on the back.

“Way to go, Daddy-o.”

Since they would have to be up shortly anyway, they got dressed and ready for their morning run.  When the men found Lt Davies and Sgt Rodriguez, Seth shared his news again.  His excitement energized the team as they took off running.

“You guys name him yet?” Bulldog asked.

“We haven’t talked about names yet.”

“What?  Man, you gotta think about this now.  This is a huge responsibility, dude.  This kid’s gotta live his entire life with whatever you pick!”

“Shit, man, this is too much responsibility for Lite-beer here,” Turner said.  “We better come up with something to help him out.”

“Name him Tyler,” Lt Davies called out.  “It’s a good, strong name.”

“No way.  If you’re gonna name him after the L-tee, name him Davy,” Rodriguez suggested.  “Now that’s a good strong name, like Davy Crockett.”

“Nah, name him Phil,” Turner said.

“Dude, are you kidding me?”  Rodriguez shot back.  “Juan.  Now that’s a name.”

“Call him Jaime,” Jack said.  “Jaime will love it.”

The suggestions kept coming as they finished their run in the growing morning light.  When they hit the range, they didn’t stop, each trying to out-do the others as they took turns pulling the trigger.

“How ’bout Clint?” Turner asked as he squeezed his trigger.

“Edward.”

“Robert.”

“Lance.”

Down the line it went until it was Bulldog’s turn to take aim.  Everyone waited with anticipation as he had yet to suggest a single name.  He savored the moment, taking a couple deep breaths before easing the trigger back.  The bullet pinged against the target and Bulldog turned to the group with a triumphant smile.

“Hal,” he said.

“What?” they all cried.

“What the Hal kind of name is that, man?”

“Oh, Hal no!”

“What?  It’s a great name,” Bulldog protested in a serious tone.  “It’s short for Harold, man.  Means power, a leader, a ruler.  Dude, come on!”

They were all silent for a moment, staring at Bulldog with surprise at his earnest expression, before bursting with peals of laughter.

“You need Hal-p, man.”

“It was my Grandpa’s name.  He was one tough dude.”

“No doubt.  With a name like that, he’d have to be.”

“Yeah, y’all are real funny,” Bulldog grumbled.

“Hal-arious,” Jack said, a sly grin on his face, before pulling the trigger.

*******

Happy Hal-idays!