The Influencer

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Chapter 5

Sonoran Desert—Dusk

Javier had been trekking through the desert for days. Another migrant had told him that this scorched pass was the way around the border wall, but he would have to be careful. Javier’s response to the migrant was a mí la muerte me pela los dientes—death can’t do shit to me (more or less).

Now, he was eating his words. Even though he’d brought a portable tent, and he’d stuffed a backpack with a sizable rubber bladder filled with water. Even though he began traveling early-early in the morning and went to sleep when the sun was at its highest point… the heat still oppressed and sapped him, trying to turn him into a pile of bleached-white bones.

Javier was so tired, he didn’t know if he could rely on his own senses. Many had come this way since the wall went up, and many had died taking their chances in the desert. We make plans; God laughs; he smiled at the thought. The sun was setting, and the air became cooler. Despite this being the best time to put in the miles, Javier needed rest. Before long, he was lying on his back inside his small, fickle tent, shrouded in darkness.

* * *

Javier was chewing on beef jerky when he heard something. A breaking, the sound of shuffling. Then came wind. Hard, fast wind, kicking up dust and sand. It was an opening of the earth—two planes rent asunder. Then came the footfalls. Not the tread of a person or a large animal. But the boom and doom of a giant’s feet trampling the ground. He kissed the crucifix that hung on a sweat-stained leather strand around his neck, reciting to himself a verse he had memorized.

“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

He wondered if he ought to go outside and take a look. Despite his exhaustion, the unusual noises had ignited an intense curiosity. He pulled out his flashlight and, before unzipping his tent, repeated to himself ten times to put everything back in its place for the next day when he returned. (He had lost his compass a few stops back.)

Javier exited his tent and zipped it up before venturing further. The flashlight’s beam shone out, revealing tiny increments of elevation and decline as he guided the illumination over rocks and humps and into small divots in the ground. He crept along to ensure he wouldn’t stumble, as the flashlight showed the terrain in front of him, but he couldn’t see anything directly below or right in front of his boots.

After a few yards, the light beam took the shape of a fishing rod bent from tension; the end of the column of light sunk into a chasm in the earth.

Something called out to him, whispering in dulcet tones, singing to him—something fulsome and hot, bloody and sex-driven; something that spoke of sin but whose sounds were irresistible, despite Javier’s fear of sin. Of Christ and God and Mother Mary.

Come closer, boy. Look to see. Yes. YES. Come look. Look down inside.

That is what Javier did, inching closer as he shook with fear—his shaking boots rattled against the sand, kicking up dust. The flashlight wavered in his grasp. Javier now stood no farther than three feet from the edge, and the beam of light shone, arching into the depths of the rift in the earth.

Javier. Look. LOOK. I am everything you are dreaming of… everything you’ve sought.

Javier was within inches of the edge, seconds from looking down. His flashlight flickered. He bashed the light with his free hand (which surprisingly did not return the device to a state of full functionality). After a half-minute’s worth of fritz, the light died. The moon and stars had been clear earlier, but none of the starlight or radiance from the half-crescent reached the desert. Javier imagined that whispers of temptation had sucked the light up whole, and left an illusory sky.

JAVIER!

The sultry whisper swelled into a scream. The chasm erupted with a pinkish red glow—a sight that urged Javier to run, and he turned to do just that, but a rolled ankle and a fall cut that plan short of execution.

The red light from the chasm dragged him across the sand and over the ledge. To the bottom of the earth.

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