THE HILLS OF CUERNO MESETA (chapter 2 of 6)

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I know this paths like the back of my hand. Roads full of horseshoe tracks, bicycle wheel marks and trendy sports shoes' footprints. I used to do them lively every sunday, like so many other people. An hour and a half to go down to the first poor quarters of the city and a peaceful way back, enjoying the sights while sitting in the tramway.

For the first time I realize how much weight I have lost. My backpack is overweight, which is not helping much but I'm going to need every thing inside of it if I happen to arrive where I'm heading to.

The tracks are muddy. Small streams appear in my way and slow down my hike. I try to be careful in order I don't slip and fall down. I use my cue as an improvised pole. I never thought before how fragile us humans are. A small sprain could be fatal but I can't risk to walk the main road: there are many of these being roaming around there.

I focus on walking, alert to any noise. The smallest bustle in the foliage paralyzes me like a deer on a spotlight or makes me run like I've seen a ghost, until I manage to calm my nerves.

The woods are silent. I leave secondary crossroads behind until I get to see the structure made of wood and bricks of the Circus Red Valley Bar & Grill, which used to be run by El Rojo.

I walk between charcoal covered barbeques that water my mouth. My nose even seems to smell the scent of fat-dripping beef .

I shake my head. I can't avoid reality or I will pay dearly for that. I watch the windows of the main building. They're blood stained. I think about the families that used to come up here from the city during weekends for lunch. I decide not to go there. I keep walking until I get to a wooden arcade which is adorned with cactus brought from New Mexico. There's a fountain next to it. Its mere sight makes me feel thirsty, like if I had been roaming the desert for days. I lower my head and let the water run down the back of my neck, my shoulders and my hair, which is as long as that worn by the surfers I used to watch at the bay.

I can't understand how can I be that tired. It's not been such an effort. It may be due to stress and migraine.

Once recovered, I amuse myself contemplating a small pond full of water lilies. I can see my face, blurred and framed by a prophet's beard, in this distorted mirror. Small organisms fluctuate inside the pond: tadpoles. I laugh and crouch down. They swim unaware of my presence. My laugh turns into a disgusted grin. They're the first living things I've come up to, but I find their simplicity irritating. As useless as the walking dead.

I get up, ready to take the road again and I find myself facing one of them. The silence in which it came makes it even more terrifying. One of its arms is hanging off a pair of tendons. The green overall it is wearing identifies it as one of the workers at El Rojo. Its look is empty. It's moving its jaws the same way I did before, in front of the grills.

I move back, scared. The walking dead moves forward, it's not shuffling nor walking slowly. I bump into the fountain with a sharp blow. A strong pain stretches from my kidneys and up my spine. I slip backwards. I scratch the back of my hands on small stones and sand as I crawl back away. It ducks and moves forward on all fours, tilting its head in a throaty screech that gives me the creeps.

I find my cue while desperately retreating. I take it and hit my assailant with no conviction. It doesn't seem to feel like letting go its catch.

It catches me, seizing my boot firmly, and then I feel something shifting inside of me. I cry of disgust, but also outraged because of my captivity and all the friends I've lost.

I wave my cue and sink it in an eye and it bursts like a grape. I ignore the spattering fluids and, leaning on my other arm, I push strongly.

Two, three convulsions. The body stops moving, now for good. I get up and leave the deadweight aside. I don't know why but I grab it by the neck of its overall and drag it to the pond, where I throw it. I wait until it sinks among a mob of tadpoles.


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