This story is by Jack McDermot and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m getting settled behind a bush when I hear the rocket firing. It streaks across the desert from a gap in the Wall, five hundred meters away on the US side of the border. It’s headed straight for Carlos’s jeep and will hit it in a couple of seconds.
It detonates against the right-front wing of the jeep. I collapse off my elbows into the dust, head in hands. The ground smells like a match after you strike it. Is this actually happening? It was completely unprovoked. Then I snap to and repeat our mantra: Their purpose is to destroy us. Then to occupy México.
As always, the commander warned us ahead of the mission: If you’re attacked, just run. Never be a hero. Faced with capture, always leave a stricken man behind. The revolutionary perversion of the human spirit.
I should save myself. I should leave him.
I find my binoculars and focus on the gap: two Americans just ahead of it, in defensive position, weapons aimed at the jeep. Ultra-Right militia, not United States Military. As if there’s a difference nowadays. Two more of them advancing towards the burning wreck. I look over my shoulder to check the escape route. There are a few more bushes, then a low hill. Beyond that, my quad bike. I could reach it in about twenty seconds. I look around again. They’re not moving. It seems like they’re concentrating on Carlos. I stash the binoculars in my bag and run. Past the bushes, over the hill, I glance back but they still haven’t noticed. I keep going. I’m nearly at the quad. I slow down.
I should leave him.
But I can’t. I can’t leave Carlos. I turn around and sprint in his direction, faster than when I was trying to escape a minute ago.
One second, two, three, four, five… I get to the jeep within ten seconds and yank the driver’s door handle. It’s so hot it burns my hand and I recoil. Through the smoke, I see Carlos pawing at the window. I shout at him to cover his face and smash the glass with the butt of my gun. He’s not belted in. But the dashboard is blown to bits and a section is resting on his bloodied knees. I think for a second. Through the open window, I wedge the butt between his leg and the hunk of plastic, levering it off. He screams. A horrible, piercing scream. I hold the gun in position and lean back to get a view of the gap in the Wall. All four Americans are now advancing with their guns trained on us. I go for the handle again and this time it gives, the door opens and I roar at Carlos to get out. The flames in my right-hand field of vision are getting bigger.
The first shot hits the jeep with a clang. Several more hit the dust around us.
“Come on! Get out! Just get the fuck out and I’ll do the rest!”
My heart thumps in my chest. I start to feel the effort of running to him. He’s like a baby, limbs flailing against the inside of the jeep. With my right hand, I give the gun a final, wrenching push upwards. With my left, I hook the strap of his vest and haul him out into the dust. My hand is covered in blood. He’s coughing furiously between moans. I can hear them shouting as they close in but I don’t look. There’s a rope on the back seat. I reach in and grab it. One-inch diameter. Not ideal.
I drag Carlos onto his feet and tell him to hold my waist from behind. He just about manages, and I flick the rope around, over and under us to lash our bodies together. One last pull, another wretched scream and he’s secure, so I knot it across my chest, heave him onto my back and start running again, bent under his 80 kilos.
One second, two, three, four, five… The quad is about another hundred meters away. My heart sinks as more bullets whack into the desert around us. My chest tightens and I taste that asthmatic tang in my throat, so strong it makes me want to puke. I keep running. I strain to judge the position of the quad. It’s now twenty meters away at most, under a tree, streaked in dirt but still glinting red and black in the sun.
I fall face down beside it, Carlos on top of me. I can smell his sweat and the rubber of the nearest tire as I fumble for the key. They’ve stopped shooting. There’s no noise in the desert apart from their shouts getting closer. I struggle onto my hands and knees and blindly scratch and scrape the key around to find the ignition slot. It won’t go in.
“On three, stand up and get on the bike with me!”
More low moaning. On three, I stand and can feel him weakly get to his own feet. We somehow vault over into the saddle together. Then I hear a fffwwwppp and a squelching sound and Carlos roars in pain.
“Are you hit? ARE YOU HIT?!”
No response. He’s hit. But I can’t deal with it now. My body begins to shake. My mouth is dry. I close one eye and aim the key again at the slot. It slides in. Twist, motor comes to life. I rev it hard, engage first gear and it clunks into motion. We take off so quickly that Carlos’s floppy weight nearly flips me off the back of the bike. I catch myself and pull us towards the handlebars. We’re bouncing all over the place and not on the dirt road yet. The throttle is wide open but it feels like everything is moving ten times slower than usual. Just keep going. I spot the road two, maybe three, hundred meters away, marked on both sides by a few cactus trees I remember from the way in.
I try to look back but my neck won’t turn far enough. I lift us off the seat and twist my whole body around and catch a sideways glimpse of the four Americans jumping into a huge Ford pickup. Blue and red strobes flashing in a cloud of dust. I try and fail to calculate their maximum speed on dirt across the distance between us, then swivel forward again just as we vault off a bank and crash down onto the track, barely missing a four-meter cactus with deadly spines. I gather it up and we wobble on. Now it feels like we’re moving faster than I’ve ever gone on this thing. I can see Juárez in the distance and the hills beyond, clear and golden. Faster than ever, but still not fast enough. As we hit air over a bump, I can hear the blare of the Ford’s engine as it closes in.
Another hundred or so meters and it draws level on our right-hand side. I glance over a couple of times. Split seconds but both side windows are definitely sliding down. Another glance. There’s a shotgun barrel resting on the rear windowsill. I duck down to the left and try to grab the pistol out of my leg holster but we’re bouncing too much and I miss it. I back off the throttle to steady us and the Ford flies past. My brain tries another calculation. Desert-spec tires, probably at medium pressure, versus a low-velocity Glock 9mm bullet. I hit the throttle again to get close enough, aim, fire… FUCK! NOTHING! They’re still moving, same speed as before, kicking up a rooster tail of dust. I’m choking and it’s hard to see anything. Carlos’s weight makes my back ache but I reposition the quad with my right hand, squint through the dust, aim with my left hand, fire again…
The Ford’s right-rear tire explodes and it bounces a foot off the ground, then loses speed. I unload the rest of my clip into it as we pass.
We hit the outskirts of the city near the fortified wall of the eastern sector. The sentries should recognize the quad, even at this speed. Do they? I squint. The gate we’re heading for is sliding open. We race through and I skid to a stop just beyond it and my whole body gives in, Carlos’s weight tipping me backwards again. Two comrades rush towards us and pull us off the bike.
Their frenzied questions go unanswered. Carlos is dead.