In the Darkness,
There Is Light

by Paul de Denus

No hurry, the mission did not expect him back until Friday. Plenty of time to be careful, to do it right, just as he had done all the times before. No need to be careless now. Yet, something told him to hurry. The exchange of the monies had gone smoothly, without incident between him and the men from the mountain, the ones dangerous and unpredictable. But that would end soon; he had acquired more than enough money to leave all this behind for good. All that remained was to dispose of the body.

He stopped his digging, quickly lit a favored cigarillo, the kind he got at the little shop in Carrizal. He exhaled the fragrant smoke into the morning air, watched it trail and vanish along the horizon where a black mesa sat, a rising coffin against the changing stained-glass sky. Soon he too would vanish, disappear from this wretched country to begin a new life, the life he deserved. He scanned the deep blue terrain around him. Here his congregation slept. There were no markers but he remembered all of them, all the ones he had buried.

“Eternal rest,” he murmured. “Better for them this way. Better for everyone.”

He had gladly taken the monies they had entrusted to him, money to give to the coyotes from the mountain, the men who would take them across the border. But God’s will had always been the better plan. “Better off to be with Him in His kingdom than to struggle in the earthly life they would only regret.” The man inhaled deeply from his cigarillo. The demise of these lost ones was a blessing, a good deed perhaps. He did not see it as murder. God knew of and understood these things.

The man adjusted his collar and resumed the dig, the spade crunching through the loosened dirt and rock. The grave was shallow, a mere scratch along the desert surface. He laid the coat-wrapped body in the shallow groove in the earth. It lay barely below the ground. “This one, truly an abomination—but all here are God’s creatures.” He looked about, a thin quiver vibrated across his puffy lips and he smiled. “Soon, little one, soon the creatures from the earth will come for you. There will be peace.” With his toe, the man nudged at the body, knocking and tucking small rock next to it, absently kicking the small jar that rolled from inside her coat into the brush, the lid dislodging. A centipede raced out, climbed the man’s shoe, a firefly lit on his pant leg.

The woman watched her daughter kneeling in the dirt, the child’s hands busy in the halo of light from the leaning lamppost. The girl was observing something, a centipede, those of many legs, wriggling over her withered hand. The black bristled hairs on the girl’s arms stood firm, quivered. The woman watched as her daughter gently dropped the centipede into the small glass jar, its movements quickly disturbing a nest of beetles, worms, and spiders. The girl looked up into the ink black sky, her bulging eyes dark as oil. Like lightning, she flashed a spindled arm in the air. She brought her hand close to her face, partially opened her wilted palm revealing the luminescent green glow. A firefly. “Look mama!” she uttered, her voice in a guttural tone, as if muzzled. “Light, to show the way.” The girl hurried the firefly into the jar, struggled to place the punctured lid on top. The mother scanned the dark, crooked street, touched her daughter’s misshapen shoulders and gently guided her into the house. Put the jar in your coat, Magdalena. The priest will be here soon.

In the early light of dawn, desert predators were at work. Rattlesnake and viper, their numbers uncountable, wove their way through the lavender and short grasses. A mass of tarantula spread for miles across the desert floor, parading over a trillion fire ants in a wide swath, the hiss and click, a slow wave moving. Spider and scorpion, beetle and lizard danced over each other, the grotesque caravan advancing. Jack hare ran. Fat beaded Gila monsters, eyes black as death, skittered across the ledges, dropped to the rocks, their angled mouths grinning in an open cry. The desert floor tumbled and spilled and roiled with urgency, the surface rippling like a heat haze. They clambered toward the luminescent green glow, eyes on the dark silhouette framed against the dark blue horizon.

The desert moved, a soft swell all around him, and he thought it was the shimmering grasses swaying in the wind, but there was no breeze.

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