Two young girls used moonlight to navigate their way through creosote and cactus. In the distant night, he sounds of truck engines and shouting federales faded away. They kept running, breathless, holding each other’s hands.
Esmerelda, the oldest at seven, led her little sister Alba into the dark.
“Are they gone?” Alba asked in Spanish.
“I think so.”
“I don’t know.”
A branch cracked behind them. As both girls spun around, a powerful flashlight flicked on. The girls held their hands up to block out the light, but they could not see who was holding the light.
“Don’t be scared.” It was a deep man’s voice, also speaking in Spanish. “Your mother sent me.”
“Where’s mother?” Alba asked, bordering on crying.
Esmerelda stepped in front of her little sister, instincts driving her to protect.
“She’s waiting at a crossing point near here. She escaped the federales.”
Hope bloomed at the man’s claim, but some deeper part of her continued to scream for her to run away.
“Get the flashlight out of our faces,” Esmerelda said. “We can’t see.”
“Okay,” the man said.
He lowered the flashlight so that it illuminated his brown suede boots and blue jeans. He’d gotten closer to the girls while he talked, so slowly they hadn’t noticed.
Esmerelda felt a moment of relief to see that he wasn’t dressed in border guard’s clothes — until she noticed the long knife held in his other hand, just visible at the light’s edge.
The girl spun and pushed her sister into the dark.
“Run!” she screamed, knowing even as she did that it was too late.