THIS IS THE PLACE . . .
Alida Garcia stumbled through the dense winter woods, blood marking her long path, a bright red comet trail against the blazing white snow.
Her hands shook violently. She could barely make a fist out of her talonlike fingers, nearly numb, wet from the big clumps of snow that fell thick and fast all around her, melting almost as soon as they hit her skin. When the time came, could she even pull the trigger on Luis’s old revolver?
A searing pain in her stomach brought her thoughts back to the mission, the divine mission.
Something was wrong. Well, fuck, it was all wrong, and had been from the first moment she started scratching at her belly and her elbow. But something was even more wrong, something inside. It wasn’t supposed to be like this . . . somehow, she knew that.
She looked behind her, along the bloody path through the snow, eyes searching for pursuit. She saw nothing. She’d spent years in fear of the INS, but it was different now. They didn’t want to deport her — now they wanted her dead.
Her hands and legs oozed blood drawn by scratching branches. Her left foot bled thanks to the shoe she’d lost some time ago; the snow’s thin, jagged crust made every step a cutting crunch. She didn’t know why her nose bled, it just did, but all those things were trivial compared to the blood she vomited every few minutes.
She had to go on, had to go on, find the place . . . the place where it would all begin.
Alida saw two massive oak trees, reaching out to each other like centuries-old lovers, a freeze-frame of perpetually denied longing. She thought of her husband, Luis, again, and thought of the baby. Then she pushed those thoughts away. She could think about that no more than she could think of the nasty thing on her belly.
She’d done what she had to do.
Three bullets for Luis.
One for the baby.
One for the man with the car.
That left one bullet.
She stumbled, then tripped. She reached out to try and stop her fall, but her bloody hands punched through the knee-deep snow. Her frigid hand hit an unseen rock, bringing more flaring, cold-numb pain, and she dropped headfirst through the white crust. She came up, wet snow and ice sticking to her exhausted face. Then she threw up — again — blood gushing from her mouth to splash bright red against the white snow.
Blood, and a few wet chunks of something black.
Inside, it hurt. It hurt so bad.
She started to get up, then stopped and stared at the twin oak trees.
They dominated a natural clearing, bare branches a sprawling, skeletal canopy at least fifty meters across. A few stubborn, dead leaves clung to the branches, fluttering slightly in the winter wind. She hadn’t known what she’d been looking for, just that she had to walk into the woods, deep into the woods, where people didn’t go.
This was it, this was the place.
Such a long journey to wind up here. She’d taken the man’s car back in Jackson. The man had said he wasn’t la migra, wasn’t the immigration police, but those people had chased her all her life and she knew better. He had stared at the gun, said he wasn’t la migra, said he was just looking for a liquor store. Alida knew he was lying. She had seen it in his eyes. She had left him there, taken his car and driven through the night, then abandoned the car in Saginaw. There she hopped a freight train and just started watching for big woods. As long as she kept moving mostly north, it didn’t matter.
Moving north, really, was the story of her life. The farther north you went, the fewer questions people asked. Childhood in Monclova, Mexico. Teenage years in Piedras Negras, then at nineteen she snuck across the border and started moving through Texas and beyond. Seven years of working, hiding, lying, always moving north. She’d met Luis in Chickasha, Oklahoma, then together they worked their way through America: St. Louis, Chicago, joining her mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A brief change, heading east when Luis found regular construction work in Jackson.
Then the itching started. And not long after, the urge to move north again. No, not just an urge, as it had been before.
The itching made it a mission.
But finally, after twenty-seven years of life, she could stop moving. She stared at the oak trees, the way they reached out to each other. Like lovers. Like husband and wife. She couldn’t stop thinking of him anymore, couldn’t stop thinking of her Luis. But it was okay now, because she could join him.
She looked back one more time. The thick, falling snow was already covering the comet path, turning the red to a fuzzy pink, soon to be all white again. La migra was looking for her, they wanted to kill her . . . but unless they were only fifteen or twenty minutes behind, her trail would soon be gone forever.
Alida turned again to stare at the trees one more time, the image a glorious sculpture in her brain.
This is the place.
She pulled the old .38 revolver out of her pocket and pressed the barrel against her temple.
When she pulled the trigger, her cold fingers worked just fine.
“FM 92.5 morning call-in line, what’s on your mind?”
“I killed them all.”
Marsha Stubbins groaned. Another “I’m so funny” asshole trying to take the weird route to get on the air.
“Did you now? That’s nice, sir.”
“I have to get on with Captain Jinky. The world has to know.” Marsha nodded. It was 6:15 A.M., just about time for the loonies and the jerks to roll out of bed, hear Captain Jinky & the Morning Zoolanders goofing off on the air, and feel they had to be part of the show. This happened every morning. Every . . . single . . . morning.