Len Kuntz (fiction)

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Conquistador

The fence was ratty spools of chicken wire.  On one side were the nocturnals who easily outdid us at night, waging crafty warfare and leveling destruction.  On this side was us, sealed inside our root cellar existence.

We should have taken better precautions, used persuasion techniques, but my father grew up fighting battles instead of avoiding them.

“There’s a time when every boy becomes a man,” Dad said, handing my brother and I rifles.  We were twelve and ten.

Our apple orchard sat in the nook of the Yakima valley.  We picked it ourselves.  On occasion, a migrant might inquire but Dad had no use for Mexicans.  He called them our nation’s ruin.

I knew he was wrong on that account as he was on others, because I’d met one.  Her name was Nancy.  I didn’t know if that was an Americanized take on some Hispanic name the way Michael was Miguel, Mary Maria.  Nancy had chocolate fondue eyes.  Her skin was beautiful, clay-colored all year round.  She giggled if I stared too much.

Nancy claimed we’d been married in another life.  Instead of Colin, she teased and called me Connie, short for Conquistador.  She wrote me random sentences –I hate chemistry, don’t you?  If you had the chance to be astronaut, which planet would you want to orbit?  The way you chew your tongue when you’re concentrating is very alarming.

Nancy was the only girl I’d ever wanted to kiss.

There was no wind the night we took a stand.  There wasn’t a single star and the moon was shy or had decided to up and elope.  It felt like in the very beginning when God stared down the formless black, deciding what to make of it.

But then they came.

We saw streaks from their flashlights, heard the rustling of sagebrush, feet stepping and husky breath, mumbled Spanish words.  They had wire cutters, and with each snip of metal, my father’s breath hiccupped until he could no longer wait.

The row of lights he’d set up outside our trailer came on like the birth of dawn itself, a white explosion of glare.  Blinded, the troupe of migrants threw up their hands to protect their corneas.  Half of them had gunny sacks to collect the fruit they’d hoped to steal.

Bullets flew.  The air crackled.  I’d never heard grown men cry out.  Their screams and pleas broke something deep inside of me and I shouted for my brother and dad to stop.  When they wouldn’t, I turned a rifle on them, firing fast, popping tufts of shirt fabric and blood.

After I was done with them, I continued firing.  I aimed for the light post and kept shooting even once it had gone dark again.  I reloaded and shot again.  I kept pulling the trigger, squeezing, targeting a black space in heaven.

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by Len Kuntz

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