HUMIDITY AND SHADOWS LINGERED. The storm had evanesced. Noél scratched a sticky scalp. His body felt cramped from sitting too long. He wanted this nightmare to end and speculatively stretched out to emerge.
The tempest, as if taunting him, began again — a prepensive torrent; a rampant moratorium.
The charro slouched back with a sigh.
“I’d rather be home,” he muttered. “Programming.” His mind was addicted to technology.
What he desired most, he suddenly realized, wasn’t techno-related but insulated untroubled amusement, playing old-fashioned diversions with his brother and mom.
Nertz, their favorite card game. Chess or Scrabble. Chinese checkers. A Norse pastime, Hnefatafl (pronounced “Nefatal”: King’s Table). A German auction contest. African pebbles — Mancala — with real stones they collected. They also collected games, from all over the globe.
He swallowed, wanting to be home playing Nertz. Win or lose, for once he didn’t care.
“I’d rather be feeding my face,” Rafa philosophized. “Pizza, rootbeer, and grapes.”
“Oh yeah, that too. I’ll take blueberry pancakes with syrup. And six glasses of milk,” Noél dreamed.
“This isn’t Denny’s.”
“It isn’t Domino’s either.” Mm, another game they liked.
“I know. Domino’s doesn’t even sell grapes.”
“Not yet. They might for a topping. There are pineapple pizzas. I’m sure plenty of kooks besides you would put grapes.”
“Though technically, if it’s baked,” added Noél, “it’ll end up being raisins.”
“Now I’m even more hungry,” Rafa yammered.
“How about a dirt taco? And a mud pie for dessert?” derided his brother.
Rafa asked in a low voice, “Do you think they forgot about us?”
“Quit worrying,” his brother answered. “Someone has to find us. We’re not that far from a city.”
“I wanna go home,” Rafael stated, not for the first time.
“Man! You’re like a video loop of sissiness! We’re lost, remember? We don’t even know where the road is!”
Noél sullenly resettled. His keister was sore, and discussing food made him aware of a corrosive coalescent pith. He glowered at Rafa. Their abdomens chorused like starved beasts craving nourishment.
Red eyes phoresced. The cougar spirit abided. A snarl baritoned.
“What was that?” Rafa piped in a quavery voice.
“Thunder.” Noél scowled at diminishing rain, his jaw set.
“It didn’t sound like thunder.”
Noél trained hard eyes toward Rafa. “Why do you always have to disagree?” The older brother deliberated. His jaw grudgingly untensed. “I know you look up to me because I’m a quarter-inch taller,” he quipped. “But this is scary for me too. We’ll be okay, we’re charros. We have to be brave like when we dance.”
“What if another snake comes? We’re sitting on skins, taking refuge in a rattlesnake den, the epicenter of their strike zone! Does that seem like a good idea?”
“We’ll throw your hat.” Noél grinned.
“Relax. No snake’s gonna come while we’re here. It’s the scorps I’m concerned about.”
Noél rummaged the leather bag, fishing for strategic advantage. Steel clanked and scraped. He arrayed four machetes with lethal blades in front of them. There, at least he was doing something. But he should have done it sooner. He was fairly new at the art of survival.
“Hey, you can take the camera apart,” his brother recommended. “The flashlight, and your graphing calculator. You could stick the components together, build a signalling device or something.”
“My graphing calculator???” Noél derailed. “Has your brain been disconnected? Or short-circuited? Or struck by lightning? I’ll try to forget you said that.”
Unreeling woven Indian blankets from the bag, he swathed a striped serape about Rafael’s shoulders and draped the second around himself. “Feel better?”
Rafa stared mutely.
A deleterious chill ascended Noél’s spine, tingled his arms. He was glad to have a jacket, as well as the cape. He suppressed a shiver.
Rain assuasively consoled. He sank toward nullness . . .
The precipitation stemmed, as if by a valve. Hills damply trilled, awakening, an armory of volatility stockpiled to detonate with an atomic bang.
Noél blinked, almost hearing it, jarred from morbid reveration.
“What if Chupacabra comes?” dunned his brother, tone subdued.
Noél laughed. “That’s not even real. It’s a joke, a bunch of myth-information. A story people made up. Forget it. We have enough to worry about.”
“I thought you told me not to worry.”
“Right. Don’t worry. We’ll get out of this. Eventually.”
Rafa hoisted a machete. “If he comes, I won’t be afraid,” attested the charro.
“Well, I’m afraid. Of you! You’re deluded,” Noél declared. “Chupacabras is a legend, a ridiculous folktale. He’s not real so he’s not gonna come.”
Rafael staunchly inflated his chest, machete elevated. “If he does, I’ll chop off his head,” the warrior-knight avouched. There was a time to be timid and a time for bold behavior, extraordinary deeds. If he had no choice, he would swing the blade.
Noél rolled exasperated orbs. “This from a guy who named his machetes! What are they called again?”
“Elbre and Valbre. What’s wrong with that? Plenty of famous swords have names!”
“Yeah, swords, not weed-whackers! You’re crazy. You can’t even watch movies that are too violent without covering your eyes. And it’s cabras in Spanish, not cabra. Goats in general. Get it right.”
“Chupacabra is more popular. The official term.”
“Whatever. Why argue about something that doesn’t exist? We’re wasting time. The rain stopped. We need to reach the highway. Let’s pack up and get going,” Noél advised, jamming his serape into the bag.
“Wow, you’re ignoring a chance to debate?” Rafa marveled. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes.” Noél straightened to brush debris from his knees. The storm thoroughly doused him, a tub of water spilt by a string.
“Wonderful!” Soppy and sour, Noél rejoined Rafa — who squirmed out of contact, heedful the drops were much more than they seemed. The rain had teeth!
“Guess we’re stuck here.” Noél crossly folded his arms.
A petroleum gurge of gall accumulated. Like the rasp of a match, a murmur rumpled Noél’s ethos: His fault. A finger of flame identified Rafael. Punic rancor simmered in Noél’s breast.
Rafa, too, discerned the huskiest of whispers: He thinks he’s the boss!
Los hermanos simultaneously edged another degree, their brotherly bond dividing a fraction, a hair of contention more.
To them the distance was vast.
Rafa eyed his sibling, with a trace of compunction? Noél met the gaze, a smidge regretful? “What?” Rafa brazened; “What?” barked Noél. Then each turned away.
A virus of mistrust infused them.
Risen from the very earth.