Jared Sandman's Blogbuster Tour 2011 runs from July 1st through August 31st. His novels include Leviathan, The Wild Hunt and , all of which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. The Shadow Wolves will be released in August. Follow him on Twitter (@JaredSandman) and be entered to win one of several $25 Amazon gift cards. See rules at www.jaredsandman.com for eligibility.
THE SHADOW WOLVES
ALTHOUGH THE TWO men wandered the desert, neither was lost. Unbeknownst to them, GPS devices had been slipped into the heavy backpacks they carried. Such technology was unnecessary, however, so long as the shined ahead of them. Following Polaris would eventually lead to freedom.
They had entered the United States from deep within the SonoranDesert. Their sole obstacle at the permeable border had been a barbed-wire fence, cut and repaired so many times that it sagged low enough to the ground to overstep. The biggest threat it afforded was tetanus if its rusty barbs pricked them.
That barrier had been left a few hours behind. They crossed into the U.S. around midnight and had stopped once since then, a ten-minute rest to slake their thirst. The water from their flasks was warm and stale, yet it tasted sweet on their parched tongues.
The normally cruel environment became bearable at nighttime, temperatures cool and dipping to the low fifties. Another twelve hours would drive the mercury well into triple digits. Had they not worked up a sweat, they would’ve been downright chilly.
A full moon offered ample brightness by which to journey, the stars overhead sparkling with the light of long-dead suns.
Neither man spoke to the other. The travel companions had never met prior to that night.
The younger of the pair, Carlos, was almost twenty and had never before undertaken such an outing. He’d been raised to believe America was like heaven, the streets paved with gold. Now that he was here, he found it looked remarkably like home.
Diego, Carlos’s partner for the trip, was in his thirties and done this at least a dozen times. So often, in fact, he knew the route by rote. On his fourth voyage, the Border Patrol had detained him; after finding no criminal background, he was released back to the state of .
The men started out shortly after nightfall. Dropped off near the border outside Sonoyta, each had been outfitted with a canteen, a couple apples and their cargo: twenty-five kilos of marijuana apiece.
They toted the dope in burlap sacks, the street value of which neared three hundred grand. Of that amount, the men were being paid two thousand dollars each to trek it sixteen miles across the desert, half on acceptance and half on delivery.
Two thousand bucks for an evening’s work, easy money only the most steadfast of men might refuse. Carlos didn’t have the luxury of ethics. Morality meant nothing to someone who couldn’t afford to eat. Empty stomachs fueled poor decisions.
He’d made less than that in six months working fulltime at the maquiladora in his hometown. That money could feed his extended family for the rest of the year. Not a diet of tortillas with rice and either — hearty meals of chicken fajitas and chipotle beef roast.
Diego stopped atop a slight hillock. From this higher vantage, the desert basin stretched out before them. The GrowlerMountains were barely perceivable in the distance, black against black.
Moonlight threw shifting shadows on the objects below.
The albedo light had played tricks with Carlos’s vision throughout the evening. At a couple points, he thought they were being followed. He saw shades astir in his peripheral vision; whenever he looked directly at them, they turned out to be saguaro cacti or trees.
As Carlos gazed upon the bottomlands, he again fell for this optical illusion. Only when Diego pointed out the movement as well did he realize the shadows were changing.
Amid the sagebrush the men spied a group of illegal immigrants marking a straight path through the desert.
The smugglers could use this development to their advantage. If they kept ahead of the migrants, their own footprints would be obliterated by the heavy foot traffic in their wake. The Border Patrol made regular sweeps through this area, a known passageway for drug running and human trafficking alike.
They opted to forge in front of the immigrants. Their destination, the small town of Ajo, was several miles away yet.
The men walked more briskly now, tried to outpace their compatriots far enough as to go unnoticed.
They’d traveled for the better part of five hours. Their legs ached from the added weight of the burlap sacks, their backs a latticework of spastic knots. The soreness between Diego’s shoulderblades was agonizing, and the straps that dug into Carlos’s chest chaffed his pectoral muscles raw.
One foot in front of the other. The promise of cash alone kept the men going.
The only sounds between them were their labored breaths and the crunch of gravel underfoot. It would be another hour until they arrived at the drop zone.
Carlos had spent most of the night lost in thought. He had a major decision to make. After unloading the cargo, he could hitch a ride to Mexico and try again. Another night, another two grand. Given the poor state of the economy, smuggling at least presented steady employment. voracious appetite for narcotics continued to grow, and he could choose to feed it. Working for even a few months would allow him to save up a significant amount of money, enough to move out on his own. By the end of the year he could buy his own place in or , somewhere along the coast. He’d always dreamed of living on the ocean.
He and Diego would likely stay the day in Ajo and split a motel room. A hot meal and a cold shower sounded blissful. Then they’d sleep away the afternoon, after which they’d start back to Mexico at nightfall.
But Carlos had a second option: disappear into the American backdrop. Wire money home to his family once a week after landing a job elsewhere in the southwest. There was stable employment in the United States for someone with a strong work ethic and a stronger back.
That was if he evaded capture. Because the Border Patrol was ever vigilant and —
A baleful sound splintered the night, cut short his thoughts of the future.
The mournful bay of a coyote carried on the air.
Both men stopped, tried to orient wherefrom the howl originated. The sound reverberated off the rocky plateaus and foothills, bombarded them from all directions.
“Ensombreza lobos,” Carlos whispered. Shadow wolves.
Diego shushed his partner and listened hard to the night.
There were stories — superstitious hearsay, really — about devil dogs cooked up by farmers and locals to dissuade drug mules from trespassing through private land. Many spoke of the animals in jest, others as cautionary tales. A few were convinced they were real, rabid canines the size of men that roamed the wastelands in search of prey.
Nothing more than myths and legends misinterpreted across lifetimes.
Coyotes did make the desert their hunting ground, but they were scavengers, not predators, and certainly not imbued with supernatural qualities.
Yet in that instant both men wondered what the darkness held.