By Michael Pacheco
His first creation was a turtle. The round mound of clay was the size of a tennis ball sliced in half. Four little knobs protruded from its sides.
“Where’s the head?” asked Jimmy.
Abraham crouched low to the ground and pointed to an indentation on the side of the mound. “There, you see that little hole? Her head is in there.”
“Her head?” Jimmy was only six years old just like Abraham. Yet, he was old enough to know about males and females and how each gender possessed its own unique characteristics no matter what species he was looking at. “What makes her a girl turtle and not a boy?”
Abraham grinned. “It’s complicated, but mostly it’s because I made her that way.”
Jimmy stared at his thin roll of clay. “Mine’s a snake. No, wait. It’s a worm; too short to be a snake.”
They both chuckled. In the distance, they heard the clanging of a light musical tone. Abraham stood and craned his neck. Down on the creek side where they stood, a grown person could not see their house, let alone a six year old kid. But to Abraham, the sound was unmistakable. It was his grandmother, summoning the boys to dinner, ringing a metal triangle. “We should get back.”
“Yeah, I’m really hungry, anyway.” Jimmy gazed at their clay animals. “What do you want to do with our animals, pets, or whatever they are?”
Abraham looked at his obese friend and wondered whether Jimmy’s diabetes was acting up. “Well, if yours is a worm, put it near the water. Maybe it’ll crawl into the mud and disappear.”
“Good idea,” said Jimmy. “How about yours?”
A strange, tingling feeling came over Abraham, much like when he let the hot water in a shower trickle down his body. “My turtle’s name is Tinka, and she’s gonna have baby turtles.”
Jimmy laughed. “You mean baby clay turtles? That’s kinda funny.”
“No,” answered Abraham. “I mean real turtles. Check it out.” He waved his hand over Tinka two times like a magician’s wand. Jimmy froze in a stare locked on the little black hole on the mound. Then, as if by wizardry, a tiny brown head eased out from under the turtle shell. Jimmy’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
That was over a year ago. Jimmy never told anyone about what Abraham did either because he did not believe it actually happened or simply because he thought no one would believe him. For Abraham, today that tingling feeling was back.
Abraham was not sure why he did it. He was alone, with his parents and older brother picking cotton. At seven years of age, he was too little to help pick the fluffy balls of white, so they left him in the car to watch over his younger sister, Magdalena.
He was standing at the edge of the cotton field, not tall enough to see over the plants that stood four to five feet tall. The voices of his mother and the others trailed off as they plucked the cotton step by step, gradually blending into the darkness of the field. Magdalena slept curled like a kitten when he last checked on her.
Abraham understood his responsibilities and would never consider leaving Magdalena alone or putting her in any danger. His father had made a special effort to impress upon him the seriousness of being a diligent babysitter just like Abraham’s brother had done for him. He explained that little ones like Magdalena were likely to grab a poisonous scorpion or eat harmful berries or simply create their own hazardous circumstances. Abraham assured him he could handle any of those situations. In any event, in his mind, what he was about to do did not constitute a neglect of his duties.
The sun was still rising in the east and beginning to itch Abraham’s skin. Earlier in the day, he’d felt that strange, tingling feeling of a year ago. He had told his mother that he felt a dust storm coming their way. He said it would be ominous and scary. Now, under a cloudless sky, he felt rather silly.
Even though it was late summer, his mother had dressed him in a long sleeved, plaid shirt and blue jeans, for his protection, his mother had said. He was covered from his wrists to his ankles. Still, he could feel the searing heat penetrate his clothing.
Abraham wasn’t afraid of being alone, but he was curious how far his family had progressed into the field. They weren’t moving fast because the cotton was plentiful that year. The trailing sack behind each individual slowed their pace. With every boll of cotton, he saw their backs bend under the increasing weight.
Something inside Abraham told him that he could see his mother without being there with her. It was more a feeling than words that spoke to him, but her image was just as clear. He obviously knew what she looked like, so conjuring up her image was easy. She wasn’t much different than other petite Mexican women with raven hair, dark brown eyes, and a warm smile. But as his mother, she was unique, his flesh and blood, and in that regard she was like no other.
Abraham closed his eyes and tilted his head back. He heard the wind whistle through the cotton field and the cawing of a crow far away. He dug his toes into the soft soil. He was careful not to lose his balance, fearing he might fall into an irrigation ditch that ran perpendicular to the rows of cotton. The trench was less than a foot deep, but it was muddy and filled with smelly pesticides and he didn’t want to fall in it. The crow went silent.
Abraham was facing west with the sun burning the back of his head. Yet, after he tilted his head far back, the brunt of the sun’s rays bore down directly on his closed eyelids. At first, the sun pricked the delicate tissue, causing wild sparks and patterns of light to dance on the canvas that was the interior of his eyelids. He tried to discern whether there were specific images or simply random bursts of light. His head began to spin and the dizziness made him wonder whether he was headed for the fetid ditch.
Just then, the infinite number of lights that had lit up his eyelids started to die out. One by one they began to darken until they had all extinguished themselves. He was conscious of his arms and legs but could not move them. It was an odd feeling to have no sensation in his limbs. It was as if they belonged to someone else.
Then it happened.
One pinprick of light appeared directly in front of him. The light grew like the opening eye of a camera’s aperture. It continued to expand until it came at him like a fast moving train with his frozen body standing on the tracks. However, instead of an object coming at him, it was a window of sorts.
Abraham found himself moving through the opening and then hovering over the valley floor. Up until that time, he’d never flown in an airplane nor traveled by any other means than his father’s Crown Victoria. He glanced down at his feet and his toes were not moving. His hands and arms were positioned flat against his sides, yet he was moving through the sky! His heart swelled, not like someone’s with a heart disease, but rather swollen with joy and awe.
He was at least twenty feet above the ground and began to recognize roads and markers on the valley floor, like the Palo Seco Mesa in the distance and the interstate highway running north and south. He didn’t know how he did it, but he turned his direction of travel to where he expected the cotton field to be. Sure enough, there they were, his mother, his father, and his brother, as well as other workers he did not recognize. The cotton pickers had reached the opposite side of the field. Waiting for them was a large truck with a flatbed trailer behind it.
As he flew over them, his mother seemed to know that Abraham was near. She stopped picking cotton and gazed toward the heavens, shielding her eyes from the sun. Abraham wanted to wave at her, but his arms were still paralyzed.
Emanuel, his pudgy, oldest brother, was having trouble lifting his sack of cotton to the hook on the weigh scale that would tell him how much he’d picked. He tried to lift the sack and almost fell when the sack refused to move. Abraham’s father took hold of the sack and between the two they placed it on the hook. His mother patted Emanuel on the back, apparently congratulating him on a job well done.
It then occurred to Abraham that Magdalena might have awakened and that he should return to the car. In mere seconds, his flight took him quickly to the Crown Victoria.
To his utter amazement, he saw a young boy standing near his father’s car. As he flew closer, he realized the boy looked a lot like him. The boy wore the same plaid shirt and blue jeans as Abraham. The strangest thing was that the boy had his eyes closed and was facing the sky. Abraham willed himself to look in the car and thanked God; Magdalena was still asleep.
In the far distance, a menacing cloud was building. It was like a dark thundercloud, except that this one was touching the ground as it tumbled toward the cotton field. The rolling monster cloud would hit his family and shower them with unknown debris and danger. He had to warn them immediately. Yet, in this altered reality state, Abraham could not move an arm, a leg, and probably not his mouth or voice either.
He willed his mind to close the panoramic view before him and shuddered when a crimp in his neck shot a pang of pain through him. He suddenly was back on the ground and in his standing position in front of the Crown Victoria.
He glanced through the window and Magdalena had not awakened. He opened the door and observed her more closely to assure that she was breathing. His body relaxed when he saw her little chest rise and fall.
He closed the door and sprinted toward his family to warn them of the oncoming dust storm. The ground was covered with dried pieces of the cotton plants, and it felt like he was running over thorny blackberry bushes. He ran so fast that the dried leaves of the standing cotton plants cut his face. He felt the warm blood trickle down the side of his cheeks and on his forehead.
When he reached his mother, she screamed in terror. Abraham stood there, catching his breath, blood dripping down his face.
“What the hell happened to you?” asked his father. “And where’s Magdalena?”
“She’s asleep in the car. She’s fine, Dad.”
Abraham’s mother dropped her cotton bag and wiped the blood from his face. “What are you doing here, son? Why did you leave Magdalena?”
“There’s a big cloud coming, Mama. And it’s not your regular kind of cloud. It’s rolling on the ground like a big steamroller.”
He spotted the cloud five or six miles away. “Look! There it is!”
Everyone turned to look at the sky where Abraham’s finger was pointing. Directly above them was cobalt blue. Approaching them was an ominous blackness.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Abraham’s mother.
Abraham’s father did not hesitate as he climbed out of the harness that carried his sack. “Drop the sacks everybody. Hurry, let’s get back to the car.”
Abraham’s mother grabbed his hand and they all hurried back to the car. She shielded her son’s face from the sharp edges of the cotton plants. As they ran, a rumble shook in Abraham’s ears like when his dad drove fifty-five miles an hour with the windows rolled down.
Emanuel was the last one to jump in the Crown Victoria. Just as he shut the door, the sky turned black and within seconds, a sudden pelting of debris and dust befell them. With the windows rolled up, they stared at the darkness in disbelief. Magdalena finally woke up when a sizable piece of wood hit the roof of the car. She started crying. Abraham’s mother turned and faced him from the front seat.
“Are you okay, son?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answered, lightly touching the scratches on his face.
Emanuel was still trying to catch his breath, wheezing as he reclined against the seat. He looked at Abraham with a frown. “How did you know that thing was coming? You’re just a kid.”
“I know, huh?” answered Abraham. “I saw it inside of me.”
Emanuel looked at him as if Abraham was crazy but he couldn’t argue with the fact that his little brother had correctly assessed the danger that befell their family.
After a long while, the dust storm passed, and an eerie silence replaced it. A thin layer of red dust covered the Crown Victoria and everything around it.
Emanuel leaned forward toward the front seat. “Are we gonna go back to pick some more, Dad?”
Abraham’s father surveyed the area and shook his head. “I don’t think so, Manny. Those were very strong winds, and our house may have lost its roof in this storm. We need to get home and check it out. The cotton can wait.” He got out of the car and wiped the dust off the windshield with his bare hand. Abraham’s family watched in silence. When he was done, Abraham’s father slid back into the driver’s seat.
“This reminds me of being under the volcano cloud of the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption back in 1980 in Washington, except that ash was grey, almost white.”
“Yeah, it was,” said Abraham. Everyone heard him, but no one replied.
The Crown Victoria rolled slowly toward the highway. When they reached the shoulder of the road, Abraham’s father turned north. Abraham was staring out the window as if in a trance.
His father glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. “Abraham, what’s the matter?”
“Be careful, and take the next alternate route home. There’s been a fatal accident up ahead.”
His father turned and gave Abraham’s mother a curious look. His mother gave him a barely noticeable shake of the head as if to say, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
Five miles into their drive, Abraham smiled as he saw the flashing sign on the shoulder of the road. It read: Caution. Traffic Accident Ahead. Use Detour.
Michael Pacheco’s debut novel, The Guadalupe Saints, was published by Paraguas Books in April 2011 and won Second Place in the 2012 International Latino Book-to-Movie Awards. His poetry has appeared in “200 New Mexico Poems” and a novella, Seeking Tierra Santa, was released in May 2011. Other fiction by Michael has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bilingual Review Press, Southwestern American Literature, The Gold Man Review, Azahares Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Boxfire Press, The Acentos Review, Red Ochre Press, Label Me Latina, VAO Publishing – Along the River II, St. Somewhere Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, Writer’s Bloc Literary Magazine (Texas A&M), Valley Voices, a Literary Review, and AirplaneReading (twice).