By Tim Tucker
In the border county of Guandana, Texas, deep in the barren valleys an old villa stood abandoned as it rotted away under blistering days. Behind the estate a broad field of wheat stretched far out into the wilderness like a patchwork quilt, clusters of it in seedlings, patches of golden emerald stalks that grew as tall as a mans waist, and a large portion of it freshly cut.
It was a big field of grain, far too big for one man to tend, and yet one man had dutifully tended to it for a very long time.
Everyday like clockwork, Ignacio Ramirez would dress in his best grave clothes of black suit and tie with matching loafers and cordobo and cut through the field with a large scythe. Even on days when his old bones ached and sweat drenched his weathered, liver spotted head and face he would just keep on scything, and if some unfortunate clunker was to pull off the main highway, steaming and screeching, looking for directions or a repair they would get no help from Senor Ramirez. No one could be allowed to disturb him, for not only was reaping the field the most important job he had ever worked in his life, but the wheat field was also a magical place, a wheat field like no other.
First of all it ripened only in separate clusters, each set off from the others.
Wheat shouldn't do that.
Secondly the wheat rotted within a few hours after being cut down, only to be born again the next morning as tiny green sprouts.
Wheat shouldn't do that either.
In fact there was always new patches of it that ripened, and for as long as Ramirez could remember he had never passed the same spot twice.
It was such a damn big field, and he never missed a day scything.
Up, down. Up, down and across. Back and up and around he scythed until he would be ankle deep in a tide of golden yellow, Cutting, hacking, slashing to and fro, separating the wheat from the chaff until one day Ramirez just up and keeled over, the scythe clamoring to the ground beside him. His eyes rolled, and the sky seemed to do a queer sort of spin like a merry-go-round, except the only music was the ringing in his ears. A gusty breeze undulated the field, and Ramirez could have sworn he heard a name whispered against the living wheat.
Ramirez struggled to his knees in front of a pile of chaff, and though he could not fathom why, he knew that he had made a terrible mistake and cut the wrong stalk. With trembling hands he removed a clump of chaff and groaned with relief when he saw the trio of stalks still intact. They glowed at his touch.
Another swipe of his scythe, and why he'd of cut them away with the rest of the chaff!
He grabbed the scythe and rose quite unsteadily to his feet. A harsh cackle escaped his mouth, like the sound of bones clattering together and he continued to scythe. Louder and louder he cackled until he was laughing hysterically, as if him and the what field were privy to some mysterious knowledge.
The name he thought he had heard rippling through the field was now nothing more than a memory as it was replaced with the sounds of a reaping scythe and the contorting of bones.
The ancient station wagon quite suddenly lurched to an uneventful stop, the last of its gas gone. They had come to a halt along a barren dirt road between stony ground and oak trees. About 100 yards up the road a large house loomed against a sea of wheat that stretched on until it just faded out of view.
Hector Mendoza sat behind the wheel, not speaking, staring at his big farmers hands.
His wife Pilar broke the silence from the passengers seat, "We must have got off the wrong exit back there, just turn around."
Hector just shook his head. "No good, the damned things outta gas."
Pilar fingered the cross medallion at the end of her necklace. "Hector mi amor, what are we gonna do now?"
Hector stared at his hands. Farmers hands that seemed to wear every ounce of hardship with a perverse pride. His gaze shifted to the house and Pilar must have seen him because she slid her hand through his, their rings sliding together. "Hector, maybe the people in that house could help us out."
A grim line formed around Hector's mouth. "We made it this far without begging, no point in starting now."
In the backseat their ten year old daughter, Uxia, stirred from her sleep. "What we stop for papi, are we in Texas? I need to pee!"
Pilar's grip tightened around his fingers. "Does it shame you so to provide for your family?"
He looked in the rear-view mirror, saw Uxia rubbing the sleep from her eyes, eyes that gleamed a radiant soft brown and reflected her mothers beauty perfectly, from the splashes of freckles strewn between her button nose to her flowing brunette hair. When they decided to leave Mexico, Hector had promised himself that Uxia would not go through the same hardships that he and Pilar had endured growing up, the grueling work days and starving nights. Uxia was his world, and deserved everything, but he knew as a man he could only provide so much. Still, what little he could provide for her was not enough, and he was more ashamed of that than anything.
Slowly all the stiffness went out of his neck and back. His face became slack and blank, like that of man with no other options.
"You two stay with the car and I'll check out the house. If it looks...safe, well, we'll see what happens."
"But papi, I'm hungry and I gotta pee!"
"I won't be gone long hija, I promise."
Hector kissed his wife tenderly and got out of the car. He walked uncertainly up the path towards the estate, like a man encumbered, and what an estate it was; two story antebellum style with an adjacent barn, both in need of some serious repair. A smaller house, possibly the groundskeepers stood near the wheat field, and it was in the field that Hector could see the man reaping.
From a distance, it looked as if the damn pajaros had stopped scaring the crows to jump from its stoop to tend to the field itself, as the man wore all black, even sporting an old fashioned cordobo hat. As Hector got closer he could hear the man grunting with exuberant force as he swung the scythe in wide, coordinated arcs, his clothes smeared with dirt.
"Hola! Hola! Hey!"
The man was too busy with the cutting to hear him, but Hector was reluctant to get too close. The man looked like a certified maton doing that type of work in those clothes, and the way he was swinging that scythe...
Hector was about to shout again when a vice like grip seized him by the cuff of his pants. He thought maybe he had tripped a snare trap – they were common round these parts – until he felt a fierce shake rattle his leg and heard the throaty, menacing growl.
"Que chingados!" Attached to his leg was the ugliest dog Hector had ever seen, and although it resembled a chihuahua with its bulging yellowed eyes and small body, the similarities stopped there. Ragged scales covered its body as thick as armor plating and its reptilian like tail violently lashed about as Hector tried to shake the little monster loose, only to have it clamp down tighter. "Let go bastard!"
A flash of darkness appeared out of the corner of Hector's eye and the man in black was at his side, jabbing the butt of his scythe into the dogs ribs.
"Bajar de el pocco cabron!" The man snapped, finally driving the dog away with a squeal. Hector inspected his torn pants cuff as the man continued to swear in Spanish after the fleeing dog. He was an old man, Hector could see, his face flushed with sweat and as rugged as the Texas foothills. A film of dirt covered his suit, and it would not have surprised Hector at all if the man had clawed his way out of his own grave. One thing was for certain however: the old man looked unbalanced. His eyes were bloodshot and bruised, and when he looked at Hector it was as if he were staring past him, through him.
Hector raised his arms defensively to show that he was no threat. "Tu habla Ingles?"
The old man scoffed and spit. In the high afternoon sun the blade of his scythe gleamed mortally sharp. "Si, though I hate the way it feels on my tongue. Mi llamo Ignacio Ramirez." His voice was filled with grit and thickly accented. "Never mind that perra, he gets excited when we have guest." He waved the scythe dismissively after the dog and started back to his reaping, Hector in tow.
"Mi llamo Hector Mendoza, and I mean no trespass Senor, it's just that my car broke down not too far from here, and I, uh, was wondering if you could take in some tired travelers is all."
The only reply he got was more swears and the sound of wheat being cut down. Hector gritted his teeth, he wasn't going to let his families misfortune fall of deaf ears. "Look Senor, I have a wife, a daughter, we can stay in the barn if it's too much trouble, and I'll help out-"
His scythe stopped in mid-swing and Ramirez finally seemed to focus on Hector with a deep gaze, his intentions unknown. "your wife and daughter, what are their names?"
"My wifes name is Pilar, my daughters is Uxia."
Ramirez repeated his daughters name, rolling the syllables around as if they were the sweetest of fruit. "O-she-ah. Such a lovely name. I won't turn away a man and his family, and there's no reason to lay with the animals, you and yours are more that welcome to stay in the big house. I'm just over yonder," he pointed his scythe towards the smaller house, "so if you should need anything I'm never too far."
"That's all mighty generous of you Senor, gracias." Hector was relieved, more-so of that fact that he and his family could stay in the big house, away from the old man. There were tales of traffickers working in the region, and the way he said his daughters name...
"I forget my manners sometimes," Ramirez continued, driving Hector from his musings. "Come, let's get permission from the homeowners first."
"Oh, yes of course."
Hector said nothing as he was led past the big house and up a hill where three makeshift graves were basking under the wind and sun. He also said nothing but just watched in a sort of bemusement as Ramirez knelt before the plots of stone and crude wooden crosses and had an honest-to-god conversation in Spanish in a low, hushed tone. After the conversation was seemingly over, he rose from his stoop and gave Hector a wide, toothless grin. "They would be more than happy for you and your family to stay."
Neither man spoke for a moment, Hector trying to make sense of the situation and realizing there was no need to make sense of the senseless, of their extraordinarily serendipitous luck, the kind that seemed too good to be true and Hector found himself first chuckling, then laughing until his eyes watered. Ramirez joined him, his laugh a death rattle.
When they had composed themselves Hector had to ask. "Senor, did you kill these people?"
"Well, I didn't kill them."
"Then who did?
"Why death of course."
A hot wind whipped through the field below. Yeah, death...of course.
"There is one thing I have to ask in return for your stay here. I've tended to this field for as long as I can remember, but these old bones have grown tired, I can hardly take it anymore!" Ramirez thrust the scythe towards Hector. "Prove your worth by tending the wheat field and you and yours are welcome to stay for as long as you want, but remember: you not only reap this field, but the world too, and all the consequences of it!"
Hector took the scythe, its wickedly sharp blade gleaming like a crescent moon. "No need to worry Senor, I'm sure I can turn a nice product for your crop."
Ramirez waved him off dismissively. "No need for that. When you reap here, the work is never done. My job is done though, now all there is for me to do now is wait."
"Wait for what?"
He shrugged. "To die."
They stared out over the sprawling field - Hector's field now, with all its emerald and gold and unseen consequences. The wheat stood still and for-lone, in stoic anticipation of the reaping.
The Mendozas lived in the big house. After unpacking the car they treated themselves to the hefty abundance of food stored in the kitchen and did nothing for three days except fix up the house, lay in the good beds on clean sheets and admire the picturesque land, and all the while never second guessing their stroke of good fortune, that all of this was coming together this way: food in their stomachs, clean clothes on their backs, even cigarettes for him to smoke in the evenings. Hector never talked of the bodies on the hill. Or Ramirez. But the old man was always there, lurking like a twisted shadow behind the darkness of the his home.
In the barn, Uxia was disappointed that there were no horses to ride, but there was a bull and three cows; not to mention a well-house that was kept cool underneath some trees containing big slabs of beef, bacon, pork and mutton, enough to feed a family of ten, maybe more, for years. There was also a churn and box of cheese, and a metal coop housing a dozen clucking chickens.
On the fourth morning, Hector gazed out his bedroom window, and he knew it was time to work because there was ripe grain in the field that needed reaping. He slipped into his work boots and stepped outside into the fresh dawn air. The scythe was leaning against the bannister and, humming to nobody in particular, Hector scooped it up and made his way to the field.
At the end of the first day of work Hector walked in with the scythe cradled on his shoulder and a look of pure confusion on his face. It was a wheat field unlike anything he had ever seen before, and he now realized why Ramirez didn't care about making a profit off of the wheat, as the damn crop rotted too fast after being cut, so he couldn't sell it.
The next morning the wheat that Hector had cut down was already born anew as little green sprouts, tiny roots and all. Hector rubbed at his stubbled chin and wondered how and why the wheat acted the way it did. A couple of times during the day he would walk far into the hills to where the previous owners of the house were buried just to look down on the land, to see how much he owned. The wheat stretched three miles in one direction and was about two acres wide.
"I can cut this field for the next ten years and I'll probably never pass the same spot twice." He mused out loud, and though it sounded silly a small part of his mind expected the corpses buried here to respond, as they had supposedly done for Ramirez. "The wheat ripens just so, never too much of it so I can't cut all the ripe stuff each day. That would leave nothing but green grain, and sure enough the next morning, another patch of ripe stuff grows..."
It was damned foolish to even cut the grain when it rotted as quick as it fell, so at the end of the week he decided to let it go a few days.
One late night he lay in bed just listening to the silence of the house, and though it was a dead silence Hector rested comfortably knowing that his family was safe.
He got up, dressed, and ate his breakfast slowly. He wasn't going to work today. After smoking a cigarette he went out to milk the cows, who were waiting and loaded. He milked them until the buckets were full and took them to the well-house, all the while thinking of the reaping.
All through the morning Hector sat on the back porch and rolled cigarettes. Pilar and Uxia had found an old steamer trunk in the attic containing all manner of Dia De La Muertos decorations, clothing, and assorted jewelry and while mother and daughter played dress up and gave tributes to dead loved ones, Hector puffed away at his smokes, his gaze fixed upon the wheat.
A little past ten o'clock he churned some of the milk into butter and drew off the buttermilk, but the sun had left a throbbing ache in his head, a burning. Suddenly he wasn't very hungry for lunch. He kept looking at the field, at the way the wind bent and tipped and ruffled it. His arms flexed and his calloused hands began to sweat. He wiped his palms on his pants and tried to roll another cigarette but found himself too distracted and discarded the mixings with a curse. He had a feeling he had lost an important past of himself, that an extension of himself was missing.
The wind whispered through the field.
By four o'clock he was beyond restless, going in and out of the house, smoking cigarettes, thinking about digging an irrigation ditch but all the time really thinking about the wheat and how ripe and beautiful it was, just aching to be cut.
"To hell with it!"
He grabbed the scythe from the porch railing and just stood holding it. Already he could feel his headache ebbing. He was whole again. Reaping the field had become instinctual, as illogical as it sounded. Each day the grain must be cut. It had to be cut. Why? Well, it just did, that was all.
Whistling, he strode into the waiting field to begin his work. In the groundskeepers house the curtains fluttered, a dark silhouette just out of view. Maybe it was the wheat field that drove poor ol' Ramirez loco, Hector thought. Besides some quirks, it was an ordinary enough wheat field, really, wasn't it? Almost.
The days loped like gentle horses.
Hector Mendoza began to accept his work as a grim sort of duty. One noon he caught Uxia with the scythe , swinging the blade around in wide, looping arcs. He had snatched it from her and told her that it wasn't a toy, that she could've hurt herself. She had run off, and all Hector could think about was what if the fool girl had taken the scythe out into the field.
He never missed a day reaping. Being out in the open field gave him time to think. Think about old man Ramirez and the way he way he brooded over the wheat field as if they shared some sort of cosmic secret. Think about the dead land and the wheat living in it. Think about Uxia, and the way she swung the scythe, the same scythe that not only reaped this field, but the world.
Think about death...
The wheat swirled like golden confetti at his feet. His visioned blurred. Hector dropped the scythe and violently wretched into the chaff.
"I've killed somebody!" he gasped, choking and holding to his chest. "I've killed, damn I've killed lots of people..." The sky revolved like a carousel, only with no music, just the whispering through the wheat.
Pilar was at the sink peeling potatoes when Hector stumbled into the kitchen, dragging the scythe behind him.
She spun around, the knife clattering to the floor. "What's wrong mi amor?"
"Get the things packed now," he said.
"We're leaving," he said dully.
"Hector, what is going on with you? This is everything we could have asked for, why do you want to throw it away now?"
He told her everything. About Ignacio Ramirez and their deal, about the wheat, about the scythe and how every time it was used hundreds of people were cut down, thousands.
"Honey you're tired, been working all day in that field," she said understandingly. "Dinner will be ready soon, just take a nice nap until then, everything will be OK."
"I swear sometimes I can hear their voices out their in the field, telling me not to kill them!"
"Hector stop it!"
He didn't hear her. "The field, it grows so crooked, so wrong. I'm sorry I never told you before but I'm doing the Devil's work out there!"
She stared at him, her eyes piercing and swimming with anger.
"You think I'm crazy," he said. "But I'm telling you I could hear his cries through the wheat, help me Pilar I think I killed mi padre!"
"That's enough!" She said firmly.
"I cut down one stalk of wheat and I killed him! I could feel him dying, that's how-"
"Hector!" She slapped the taste out of his mouth. "Shut up!"
"Oh Pilar," he mumbled, caressing his stinging cheek.
She snatched the scythe from his grasp and sat it in one corner. "Ten years I've been with you. Sometimes we had nothing but each other and prayers to live on and now here comes all this good luck, this blessing, and all of a sudden you can't seem to bear up under it!"
She brought the bible from the living room and rustled through its pages. They sounded like wheat rustling in a small, slow wind. "You sit down and you listen."
She read from the bible, looking up now and again to see what was happening on Hector's face. She read from the bible the next day too, and when Hector walked down to the distant town to use the telephone at the General Store, he returned home with all her words drained from him along with all the blood in his face.
"Padre passed away two days ago. His heart..."
All that Hector had to say was, "Get the car ready, load it up with as much food as you can. We're leaving this place."
"Open you eyes woman!" He snapped. "This is poor grain land, yet look how ripe it grows. It ripens in patches, a little each day, it ain't right! And when I cut it, it rots! The next morning it comes up again without any help. The other day when I cut the grain it was like ripping my own flesh. I heard somebody scream. It sounded just like...and now that phone call!"
"We're staying here," She said defiantly.
"Damn it Pilar!"
"We're staying here, where we're sure of eating and sleeping and living decent, long lives. I'm not starving Uxia down ever again!"
The sky was blue through the windows. The sun slanted it, touching half of Pilar's determined face, shining one eye a radiant brown. Four or five water droplets hung and fell from the kitchen faucet slowly, shining, before Hector relented. He sighed, a husky tired sound and nodded, looking away. "All right," He said. "We'll stay."
He picked up the scythe weakly, Ramirez's words running through his head.
"You not only reap this field, but the world too, and all the consequences with it!"
The next morning Hector knocked on the old mans door. Ramirez answered on the ninth knock, looking just as sleep deprived as he felt.
"You worked this field for God knows how long but even you don't know how it works, do you? That's why you wear those clothes when you did your reaping, you never know when you might cut your own stalk! There has to be a way to know, I'm cutting down people I know, people I love!"
Ramirez shook his head. "We are not the ordained, only the harbingers. Even if we could control the reaping of the field, you'd just be delaying the inevitable. Everyone must die eventually."
"Yeah and who ordained you anything, who the hell makes these damn rules anyway? What if I don't want to do this anymore?"
The old man shrugged, "To tell you the truth I don't quite remember who gave me the job, It's just always...been there, this land. And Senor Hector, you are more than welcome to relinquish your duties, but then you would have to suffer the consequences that come along with it, now won't you?" With a smile that resembled a skull grimace with no warmth whatsoever Ramirez closed the door softly.
Quite suddenly Hector felt very old. The land here seemed ancient, mummified, secretive, and powerful. When the Aztecs danced on the prairie it had been here, this field. The same sky, the same wind, the same wheat. And before the Aztecs? Some caveman, all gnarled and shaggy haired and wielding a crude wooden scythe, prowling through the living wheat...
Hector returned to work. He had to accept the job with some sort of philosophy, whatever it may be. It was simply his way of providing for his family. They deserved to eat and live long, good lives after all the years of uncertainties.
Up and down he scythed, each grain a life he callously cut down. He looked over the field, wondering if there was a way he could know where his wife and daughters stalks were. He had felt the pain, the overwhelming sadness when he had cut down his own fathers stalk, but that had been after the fact, the deed already done.
If I knew where their grains were, I could never cut them down. In fact we could live fore-
And then suddenly it came.
A single stalk of wheat stood from a cluster he had just swiped away. Another inch with the scythe and he knew, right then, he would have cut away his daughters life before it had truly begun. Trembling, he backed away from the still standing stalk and stood there for some time.
Uxia found it strange when her papi came home early, kissed her on the cheek and hugged her dearly.
At dinner Pilar asked,"You quit early today? Does the wheat still spoil when it falls?"
He nodded and helped himself to more meat.
She said, "Maybe you outta write to the Agriculture people, have them come look at it."
"I was just suggesting," She replied.
His voice raised softly, "I gotta stay here all my life, can't nobody else mess with that wheat, they wouldn't know what to cut, or how to cut it, they might cut the wrong parts."
"What wrong parts?"
Hector slammed his fork down hard. "Who knows what they might want to do, those government men! They'll probably plow the whole field down!"
Pilar nodded. "Maybe that's what it needs. They can start over again with new seed-"
Hector snapped from his seat, the chair clattering to the floor. "I ain't writing no damn government, and I ain't handing this field over to no stranger to look at and that's that!" He said, and the screen door banged behind him.
Hector continued to reap the field, but the burden of what he was doing gnawed at him, and at the end of one long day he knew he had bought death to one of his old, beloved amigos in Mexico. He read his name on the cut grain and couldn't go on.
He locked the scythe in the cellar. He was done with the reaping, done for good.
Hector smoked a cigarette and told Uxia stories to lighten her mood, but his little girl seemed withdrawn, aloof. In a way, so did he, because the wheat rippled with moonlight.
It wanted cutting. Certain parts needed cutting now. Hector Mendoza sat, swallowing quietly, trying not to look at it.
What would happen to the world if he never went into the field again? What would happen to people ripe for death, who waited the coming of the scythe?
He'd wait and see.
Pilar was breathing softly when he blew out the oil lamp and got to bed. He was tired, and sleep came quickly. So did the nightmares.
Twisted, macabre visions of death and reaping skeletons and stalks of wheat that bled honest-to-god blood when cut down and sometime during the early morning he must have screamed because Pilar was shaking him out of his slumber, terror in her voice.
"Hector! Hector por favor wake up!"
He awoke, sweating and panting. He bolted out of bed and headed straight for the cellar, Pilar right on his heels. He didn't remember unlocking the scythe but he soon found himself outside, blade in hand and a blind fury unlike anything he had ever experienced searing his judgment. His wifes screams fell on deaf ears. He knew what he had to do.
Under the moonlit sky Hector stalked right past the wheat field, his gaze fixed on the groundskeepers house.
"Ramirez!" He shouted, his voice full of rage and disgust and fear. The old man was the key to this nightmare, and if Hector had to kill him to make sure his family lived a safe, happy life, then he wouldn't wait until he cut down his stalk: he'd gut the cabron himself! "Ramirez you get the hell out here right now!"
"Hector please stop it, you're scaring me!"
"I gotta do this, once he's gone nothing is going to stop us from living on this land, and there'll be no more scything, you watch! Everything is going to be OK!"
"Nobody lives in that house Hector! Please, just come back to bed...please."
Hector didn't know what it was, but an outside force compelled him, whether it was from the scythe itself or the wheat field, which hissed in the wind. It wanted blood.
"That's the way you want to play it? Fine, I'll come in there and drag you out!" Hector started for the house, scythe raised.
Behind him he heard a dull thumping sound.
"Hector the house!"
He turned just as tendrils of flames short forth from their home, licking at the stars. Sparks fell across his face, then the thick, hot odor of fire. In seconds the entire structure had become a savage inferno.
"Uxia!" Pilar uttered a strangled gasp and half stumbled, half ran through the drifting heat. Hector dropped the scythe and chased after her, and by the time they reached their home there was not a shingle, window, or sill that wasn't alive with fire.
Their eyes met, her face pale and sweat shined, flames and desperation glowing in her eyes. Hector knew what she was about to do before she did it. Before he could stop her Pilar made a beeline for the burning house, disappearing through the front door amongst the smoke and shadows!
"Pilar, goddamn it no!" With no hesitation he was after her. Disregarding the heat he entered the inferno, his eyebrows withering, his skin crawling hot like paper burning. It was too dark to see much, red light cast quivering shadows against the flames and Hector could barely make out Pilar's scrambling figure as she stumbled up the stairs. He followed her, tripping over the outline of steps until her reached the second floor where the smoke was thickest.
Pilar stood in front of their daughters room, her mouth agape in a look of horror and when Hector got to her side he expected to find his little girl flash-fried and burning, not breathing, dead -
-and found her alive, the fire creating an impossible ring around her bed when she should have been engulfed. She continued to sleep as if nothing were happening, her small breast rising, falling, taking in air. He looked at his wife, saw that it was amazement, not horror etched across her face. She fingered her cross medallion, but Hector knew better.
This was no act of God.
Their little girl did not perish in the fire because he did not cut down her stalk when it was her time. Uxia Mendoza, by all rights should have died on this night when the fire swept through their home, but because one man could not- would not- do his job his daughter was spared death, but at what price?
Behind them the staircase burnt and crumbled away, the flames leaping higher.
"We're trapped," Pilar breathed. "What's going to happen to our hija?"
Tears welled in Hector's eyes, tears of absolute joy for his daughters reprieve and tears of sorrow for his life, and the life of his beloved Pilar, and the fact that they would not be able to see their daughter live her life. "She's gonna be OK, it ain't her time." Fire fed contently on the rafters above head, causing a ferocious crack to split the air. The two Mendozas held hands as the flames inched closer.
"Hector I'm so sorry I didn't believe you before, I love you!"
"I love you..."
Pilar bowed her head and began to pray, the same prayer hector had heard 10,000 times before, and the last prayer her would ever hear. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..."
Hector bowed his head and silently recited his own pray.
Hail Mary the Virgin Whore, it's hot as Hell in here, I can't take this anymore. Hail Mary with the burning face-
-The last thing he ever heard before the timbers finally gave way and reigned fire and death upon them was his wifes voice, shrill and full of terror.
"Aye Dios Mio!"
Uxia Mendoza opened her eyes and knew immediately that something was very wrong. She was staring up at the early morning sky, which was weird because she didn't remember falling asleep outside. She sat up, wide eyed, and took in her surroundings like a stranger in a strange land.
She had slept amongst fallen embers and angry colored pieces of wire spring and metal that had once been her bed. The ruins of her home loomed scorched and twisted through a haze of smoke and smoldering ashes that smelled so bad the air itself seemed burnt. She could see the kitchen- charred tables, chairs, the iron stove, cupboards. Here- the bathroom. There- what was left of the parlor. Shakily, she got out of bed and put her bare feet into ashes.
It was then that she saw them. Half buried under burnt out debris, their charred bodies horribly fused together like a sculpture from a nightmare. Even in the dawn light she could see the rings still attached to their reaching hands; her parents never took off their rings.
Her blood ran cold, and a sadness which she never knew could exist clutched at her heart until her tears flowed freely. She ran, stumbling through the ash and dust of what used to be her home, not wanting to look at her parents but unable to tear the image of their deformed, twisted bodies from her mind.
She ran until she tripped over something long and narrow in the grass. Through her haze of tears she saw that it was the scythe she had seen her papi with many times before. She picked it up, her despair boiling to a slow seething anger. It wasn't fair. Her madre had always told her that if something bad were to happen they would always be together in the end. Uxia Mendoza didn't understand many things, but she understood death, and she knew that she should have died along with her padres in the fire. Should have...but didn't.
If we really feared what we didn't understand, then Uxia was afraid of absolutely everything now.
She rose to her feet, the scythe awkward in her hands. She walked, then began to trot, then finally sprinted into the field, her anger overflowing. She raised the scythe and as she swung it down she could have swore that she heard the most horrific, blood-curdling scream in the wind.
Maybe it was her own.
She sliced from left to right from left to right, over and over, tearing out huge scars of green and ripe wheat, screaming and cursing at the unforgiving sky.
Bombs shattered Boston, New York, and Chicago.
The blade swung insanely.
And mushroom clouds vomited blinding suns over Tokyo, Moscow, and Manila.
The grain wept in a sea of green as the Yellowstone Caldera erupted and covered Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho under the blackest of blizzards.
Indo-China quaked, the Korean Peninsula flooded, and Africa awoke in the night.
The blade went on, rising, crashing, and severing with all the fury of a little girl who had lost everything she loved, and even if she could fathom what she was doing, she wouldn't even care.
The ice caps melted. Everyone would suffer now.
When her arms were stiff with fatigue and her breathing was as ragged as the wheat and when there were no more tears to cry Uxia finally stopped swinging the scythe. Behind her the grain crunched She turned to find a stooped old man in black. His clothes were covered in dirt and his wrinkled face was a mask of sadness. Uxia tried her best to hold the scythe steady as he inched towards her.
"My child, my sweet child do you have any idea what you have done?" The old man croaked.
"I cut down that stupid wheat, and if you come any closer I'll cut you too!"
The old man stopped in his tracks, his shoulders slumped. For a moment neither spoke, a cool breeze drifted through the still standing stalks. Uxia knew that she was a small, tired, sweaty little thing, but he was old, and probably slow. If he tried anything she would lop off his head along with his stupid little hat! The old mans face finally melted into a smile, even though it looked like it pained him deeply to do so.
"Yes child, you cut my wheat. Your father did it better if I do say so though."
"You knew my father?"
The old man nodded grimly. "I'm terribly sorry for what happened to your parents. They were good people, they only wanted the best for you."
"I was asleep when the house burned down. I should have...I should have..." A lump of grief formed in her throat as she fought back more tears.
"It was not your time to go yet. You still have lots of work to do."
"Work?" She sniffled.
The old man spread his arms embracingly, sweeping the field. "Si Senorita, lots of work still left to be done in the field, you wouldn't just leave the job unfinished would you?" He stepped close to her, his arms outstretched, but this time Uxia wasn't afraid. "If you want, I can teach you how to reap the field, just like your father did. Would you like that Uxia?"
He loomed over her as dark as a shadow – a smelly shadow, but she could sense his warmth now and see the compassion on his wizened old face. He may be a stranger to her, but this dirty old man was probably all she had left now. She gave him the scythe.
"Y-you aren't going to kill me now, are you Senor?"
"Of course not silly child! There's already been enough killing today..."
Across the field Uxia could hear a harsh yelping, and the cutest dog she had ever seen ran up to greet her. It had cool diamond shaped scales, big eyes, and a whip like tail that wagged happily as it nuzzled against her leg.
"It looks like you made a new friend." The old man said. "Come along now little one, time to finish what you started."
And so at the end of the world Uxia followed the old man into the wheat field, her new perro at her heels, and under the light of a blind sun she continued to scythe, because even though the world had become a graveyard, there was still always work to be done.