This is the sixth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 6 Title — It’s A Wonderful Life — was chosen by Perry. I’ll choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same thing goes if you find yourself not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Gary’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Gary’s:
What makes a family uproot and risk everything for a new life? Follow a boy from Honduras as he and his mother and unborn sister make the treacherous journey to the land of opportunity. It won’t be easy. Hot on their heels is Satan, a ruthless gang banger that can’t afford to let them testify against him. Will they survive? Read and see.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Copyright 2022 — R. G. Broxson
(4,050 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
My amigos pulled up to our house and yelled out the poorly tinted windows of a 1985 Ford Granada. “Hey, Emmitt, come on out. Let’s go motoring.”
Excited by the invitation, I stepped to the door, and then looked back at my father as my new crew honked a horn. He winced at the unwelcome break in an otherwise peaceful evening. I have often thought back, lying awake in meadows or desert dunes, staring at the silver spray of stars, if I hadn’t glanced back for Poppa’s approval, would there have been so much blood that night?
It’s rhetorical, I know, the fact that I looked back, and that this small act might have somehow shed so much blood. The better question might be: would I have ever learned the definition of the word rhetorical without the shedding of the blood? That’s not rhetorical, that’s a real question, and it haunts me like my father’s ghost.
I sometimes try to justify it in my mind. And that always leads me to the next obvious question: was it worth it? I want to scream NO. But this is a question that only my future heart and my new path can someday answer. Only time will reveal the real, cold-truth answer to that question, but I’ll try to give it a shot at the end of this essay, Ese.
That annoying honk got my father’s goat. He had worked at the scrap yard all day, separating iron from steel and steel from aluminum, and he was tired. He looked up from his second Modelo, the beer of boxers, and a hot bowl of frijoles and tortillas. My father pushed back from the table and moved like a fullback to intercept and block me at the door; he easily elbowed me aside and shouted to the noisy offenders, “Oh, hell no. Not my boy!” He looked at me and added, “You’re not going anywhere with these baby gangsters. Go to your room and finish your homework.”
Until that night, I had only known these boys as friends and relatives, not gangsters. My mother was not far behind. She fretted and flustered and crossed herself; she murmured the words ‘no, no, no, no’ as she played out her part in this tragic scene.
I heard my 15-year-old cousin, Booger, address my father from the anonymity of the dark car as ‘Holmes’ and I knew it would quickly go downhill from there. Booger never talked like that. He must have been trying to act tough. Then he made things worse. He said, “Yo, Holmes, send the bitch boy out.” I heard a wake of giggling from the car.
My father didn’t get Booger’s dumb jokes, and he didn’t suffer fools in his own yard. “Who you callin’ a bitch, bitch?” My father roared into the bright lights of the car. “Is that you, Booger? I’m just gonna have to come out there and whoop your little ass.” And he did. Poppa marched out, reached in through the open backdoor window, and grabbed his nephew Booger by his collar. He snatched him out and bent him over the trunk of the old, square car. Pop stripped off his belt like a magician, held it high for all to see, then gave Booger three hard whacks. He told Booger to go home and tell his old man that he had taken care of some overdue business for him and that a mucho gracias would do. Then he dropped the belt like a microphone.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Booger was bawling as he scrambled back into the car through the window instead of thinking to open the door. I would tease him about this tomorrow, if he came to school. My mother stood out on the front steps of the house, still fretting as father turned away from the car to walk back to his casa.
My mother held her belly like a large crystal ball, rubbing it to reveal the future; her expression was dubious. Pop was laughing, and the halo from the Granada’s blinding headlamps made him look spectral, ghostly, and almost angelic as he came back up the walkway.
Then my father’s face changed. He suddenly looked inquisitive, like he was trying to do algebra right there on our front lawn. He looked directly at my mother for help, a solution. A bubble of blood formed and burst in his nostril, then another. He touched it and looked at his red fingers.
Momma caught him as he fell into her arms. As he collapsed, crumpled, I saw another man, thin, wiry, and no more than 17, standing behind my dying father with a stained knife held low. His face told the story. He sneered oddly, his lip twisted like a lime in a drink; he cursed, and wiped the tainted blade onto his jeans.
The gang-banger was well known to us. His baptized name was Santana, but he preferred Satan. We were just a bunch of knuckleheads from school, pretending to be high school gangsters until Satan came along. He was older than us and just took over the gangly group. He had a car, and we thought it made us so cool to drive around and whistle at the pretty chicas. We allowed the mad wolf, the loco lobo, into our fold of sheep, and he became our ruination.
In between screams from my mother, Satan, with bloody hands, ranted at my dying father. “Nobody disrespects the Loco Lobos, do you hear me, old man?”
I don’t think my father heard him. The silent knife from behind had nicked his heart and punctured a lung; two lethal strikes, blood and oxygen; he was called out without a third swing.
The blade entered Poppa’s back, just below the Dallas Cowboys star he had gotten inked there so many years before. As my mother held his head in her lap, my father used his dying breath to address me, not his wife or his oppressor. He whispered three words: “Run, Emmitt, run.” And then he became a ghost.
For the record, I didn’t run. I froze like a frightened rabbit. My mother is the hero of this story. Somehow she got us through this tragedy. She was five foot nothing, but she was a giant in my eyes.
As I write this, I’ll never forget those rare Sunday afternoon Cowboys’ games that we tuned in to, but only when the solar flares were fan-friendly and Poppa had twisted an extravagant extension of tinfoil to the antenna.
Poppa and my uncles would drink pyramids of cheap cervezas; talk trash about the Philadelphia Eagles, then Pops would lift his shirt after each Cowboy touchdown and flash his astral tattoo. If asked, and most times you didn’t have to, he would smile wildly and allude to his rowdy days, back when tequila sometimes made decisions.
Mother would always roll her eyes and sigh; then Pops would pull her close, cup her cheeks, kiss her face, and twirl her on any make-shift dancefloor, calling her his favorite cheerleader. She would always blush and turn away, but her shy smile lit up the room. This was the Honduran version of a wonderful life, and it truly was.
My father’s favorite player in those wonderful days was Emmitt Smith, the Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys running back that never feared his tacklers. He pounded straight ahead and went right through the defenders like a hot knife through butter.
My father swore that if he ever had a son or daughter, that child would be named after his idol. Momma tried to talk him out of it, but this was a foot-down decision, nonnegotiable by the man of the house. That’s why I am the only Honduran national named Emmitt.
This horrible ending, the death of my dear father, turned out to be a new beginning, a new life for me and my mother…and my unborn sister. After the funeral, we packed everything of value, not much, into my father’s junk truck. My mother had a sister in Mexico, and we were invited to stay with them for a while. That was the story that we told everyone at the wake and funeral.
Sure, the federales had arrived and investigated that tragic afternoon. The hair-lipped boy (that was the evil, twisted sneer I’ll never forget), Santana, had even been detained and jailed. But his father was a high-ranking lieutenant in the latest cartel to set up in Tegucigalpa, our sad city. Money was exchanged, or threats were made; either way, the results were the same; Satan had been released on bond within 24 hours of killing my father in cold blood. My mother knew how these things worked; she knew that there would be no witnesses left alive to testify if there was a trial.
My mother, you should know that her name is Rosita, had already lost her father and three brothers to gang violence, and now her husband’s blood still stained our front porch.
I could see that she was empty inside, despite being pregnant with my sister; there were simply no more tears to cry; only dread shone in her brown eyes. Rosita was determined not to lose her children to this madness. The chain must be broken, and if necessary, she would become the chain-breaker.
“Emmitt,” she turned down the radio and explained as we passed through El Salvador and Guatemala and finally reached the Belize / Mexico border, “don’t say a word. Momma’s got this.” Fortunately, our truck was filled with priceless junk my father had collected as scrap. My mother noticed the guard admiring some items, and she generously donated a pair of rusty rims with slick tires still attached to the border agent. We passed right through into Mexico and merged into the motley stream of dreamers that made up this great migration.
I have watched the nature documentaries on my father’s knee… the ones that explain how the great herds of wildebeests or the striped zebras somehow traverse continents to find watering holes or a safe place to raise their young. This was us now. We all wanted the same thing, and we all moved according to different motivations, but that didn’t matter. Thousands of humans, people, migrants, reduced to mindless wildebeests, shambled north, all complicit to the epic journey—one painstaking step at a time. They whispered dreams of Disney, plentiful food, jobs to pick from, gleaming classrooms, certain citizenship, and easy entry, if they just followed Joe’s Road across the border.
We drove past too many desperate families; bent fathers, worn-down wives, bundled babies, and lost-eyed children. Rosita kept glancing into the rear-view mirror until her eyes overflowed with sorrow. My mother finally crushed the brake and stopped us in the middle of Biden Highway, where she banged her head on the steering wheel and wept. After she got herself together and assured me she wasn’t crazy, she got out and motioned to a small family—get in. The father, along with a mother carrying a baby, scrambled into the bed of the big Chevy and closed their eyes in relief as we motored north to the land of wonder and opportunity.
It felt like we drove forever, night and day across the monotony of Mexico. When my mother stopped for petrol only two hundred miles from the border, the man in the back offered a few pesos. My mother refused. Gifts were from God and should be repaid to strangers; this was the interpretation of the Gospel according to Rosita.
Everything seemed to be going well until the tap at the cab window. The man in the bed of our truck gestured for my mother to pull over. She did. He had been animatedly talking on his cell phone for miles, my mother observed from the rear-view mirror, and she assumed that there had been some sort of emergency. Her kind heart and caring nature almost got us all killed.
On the side of the highway, the man, our passenger, diminutive and soft-spoken, pulled an ancient pistol from his kit bag. His hands shook, and he waved the gun chaotically as he explained to my mother that their coyote, who waited for them near the pass, had called and had suddenly raised the price of border crossing, and they did not have the money. The baby cried as he spoke. His coyote, after hearing about his luck as passengers in a Chevy pickup, decided that the truck would suffice as full payment for his family to safely arrive in the land of milk and honey.
We got out. My mother whispered for me to grab my backpack and some bottles of water. She told the man-turned-bandito that she loved him, but that his fate was now in the hands of our lord. And He was a vengeful God. The man shrank from her words, almost dropping the heavy pistol.
“Stop,” my mother said, as he climbed into the cab of our truck. “You will need something to make you look…more American, once you cross over. May God go with you.” My mother, somehow smiling, turned to me, snatched the Dallas Cowboys hat off my head, and handed it to the quavering man.
The man, attempting to make a roadside robbery while calming his wife and crying baby, grabbed the blue hat with a white star and put it on absently and askew. The slack-jawed man just stared at us, the woman comforted and swiveled the baby as it continued to squall.
They drove away in my father’s truck, leaving us in a plume of black smoke. Our only hope now was to join the caravan of motley migrants following the main highway to heaven, to Shangri-La, Disney World. We had heard through the Latin grapevine that the walls were down and the gates were wide open. We were thirsty wildebeests in search of that ever-quenching waterhole.
I looked at my mother; she looked at me. Neither of us was good at this. I, fortunately, had spent some summers with the Association of Scouts of Honduras. Just like your American Boy Scouts. My father said it was the only gang he wanted me to join. That’s almost funny now. Now that I understand irony.
We walked, and we walked some more. And it wasn’t so bad. We joined tens, hundreds, maybe thousands heading to the Promised Land. The other migrants, dressed in rags, helped us survive. Their women recognized that my mother was near term, and those ladies never abandoned us, even as we slowed and held them back. It wasn’t a race; it was a marathon, and a pilgrimage. I like to think now that no one wanted to start a new life with bad karma.
Karma, it’s real, and it smells like burning flesh. We saw the smoke rising from the plateau like a giant gray question mark. We somehow knew the answer to that question before we arrived on the scene. My father’s Chevy was a hulk of smoldering metal and foul-smelling tires. But it was the odor of Diesel, death, hair, and flesh that caused the throng of migrants to veer far off the road and into the desert to avoid the stench.
Bullet holes dotted the doors. It was an ambush; someone with a scant description and a cold-blooded mission to eliminate witnesses. My mother looked to the heavens and thumbed her beads as we stood before the smoldering massacre. She looked at me, her face crumpled, and she hugged me so tight that I could feel movement in her belly—my sister—our first conversation. Over her shoulder, I saw it, my Cowboys hat, perched atop a patch of palmettos. It was surely a sign, good or bad, I did not know.
I put on the hat knowing that karma had caught up with its previous wearer. The curved bill instantly cooled my face, shading my chafed cheeks and chapped lips against the ruthless summer sun. But it became more to me. It became a symbol of my new life. It offered a guiding star, a sure sign, a proven path, a roadmap to a better life, a wonderful life. If we could only push, push, push. Persevere. We could reach the stars.
I won’t lie and tell you we crossed the tundra like your Western pioneers of old. We had NGOs along the way to help us, passing out water and offering minor medical aid, but mostly we had each other. There were many nights we slept out in the open, oohing and ahhing at shooting stars like we were watching fireworks. But sometimes we jumped at the touch of a tarantula or a probing scorpion.
I like to think that these experiences are destined to become more than my memoirs. These are indeed true-ish type tales that parents, especially those of my shade, should pass to their children, then upgraded for the re-telling to grandchildren. That’s how epic histories begin, and legends are born. Now, allow me to end this epic adventure so I can begin another.
It was the gang, of course, that destroyed our Chevy and murdered the proxy family that had stolen it from us. Not Karma. The gang called themselves Loco Lobos, and they spray-painted a double L onto every unburnt inch of my father’s truck. It wasn’t necessary, we already knew the Loco Lobos, and they certainly knew us.
Did they think we were dead? Were we now safe to continue our journey? Or had they looked closer, checked pockets for I.D.? We did not know, and until we were sure, we remained wildebeests, forever running from the Lobos—the wolves.
By the time we reached Nava, the border town leading into Eagle Pass, my mother had grown weak and was moving slower. Each step was a struggle, an effort of pure will. When she stopped and called out, two of the women in our group led her to the shade of a tree line. I waited on a rock, listening to the sounds of birth. They sounded so much like the sounds of death I had heard along our journey.
After many hours, one of the midwives came to me; she smiled and told me I had a baby sister. But my mother was weak and could not travel for at least two days. The next morning, my mother wrapped Esperanza in a towel and led the way to the border. As you probably know, the name means Hope. As we walked the last few miles, my mother listed the advantages that Esperanza and I would have in America: education, work, food, friends, opportunity, freedom…she went on and on.
“We could start with a raft,” I whispered to my mother as we reached the shores of the mighty Rio Grande.
My mother laughed and said, “You are so much like your father,” then she tugged at the bill of my cap.
“Hey, cowboy!” someone shouted. We turned and saw Satan. There were three Loco Lobos with him; one of them was Booger. He would not look me in the eyes. “Whatchoo got there, Mamacita?” My mother cringed and turned Esperanza away from Satan’s hideous face.
“Girl or boy, it don’t matter. We will get a good price either way,” he laughed, and the others joined him, except Booger.
My mother looked at me with tears in her eyes.” My boy,” she whispered, “my dear sweet boy. I need you to become a man today. A man, and the best brother a sister could ever have.” She handed me Esperanza; she gave me Hope.
I froze again, until my mother shouted in my face, “Run, Emmitt, run!”
Without even thinking, I reversed the Cowboys hat on my head and I charged the line of boys that stood between me and freedom. I tucked Esperanza in tight and held her with both hands like Emmitt Smith held the rock, as my father had called it. Like Emmitt, I did not try to fake or dodge my tacklers; I went straight up the middle.
God gave me strength that day, and I broke through the unsuspecting line. As I plunged into the rushing river, two Lobos were down, and one was getting up onto his knees. It was Satan, and he was pointing a gun at my back. I heard my mother scream, and then I heard a shot. I stopped, not sure if I had been hit; the cold waters had numbed my skin.
Satan was still on his knees, but his hands were at his side. He looked up to the heavens and then fell flat on his sneering face. I saw Booger standing behind him. He too had a gun, and smoke piped from its barrel. Booger looked at it like it was a snake and he flung it into the cleansing river that washes away all sins.
The other two Lobos picked themselves up, looked at Booger, and then ran away, back toward the old Granada. Booger went to my mother. They were both crying. She slapped him hard across his face, then pulled him close and kissed his wet cheeks.
The four of us banded together and forded the border waters that divided our worlds. A man in a green uniform, a CBP officer, awaited us on the far side. He had freshly mowed hair and a hard face, but he looked like us and had kind eyes and a nice smile. He greeted us in Spanish and English, and he treaded knee-deep into the mud to help us up the treacherous bank.
The man tossed us towels and drove us to a processing center where there was food, donated clothing, and medical attention for my mother and baby sister. He noticed my hat, slapped me on the back, and asked, “How ‘bout ‘dem Cowboys?” The rest is history.
Your country took us in and gave us a chance. That’s all we needed. One fucking chance. Sorry for that, but I cannot overemphasize how much of a difference a single chance can make. We worked hard the first years, then opportunities began to open up. This is what they call the American Dream. For those that have lived the nightmare, this is, by far, the most wonderful life.
Asylum panel members, before you make your determination on my status, please allow me to thank all those that made this part of my journey possible. I thank my father, who gave me strength and honor; I thank my mother, who gave me love and broke the chain; I thank my sister, a gift beyond measure; I thank Booger, he will always be my brother. I have to thank Emmitt Smith for inspiring my father and me. I want to thank my teachers that have painstakingly translated word after word, so that I could write this petition and appeal to your inner hearts. And finally, I thank Santana. Yes, I thank Satan for making all this possible.
My family could have all lived out short, brutal lives in quiet desperation in our little Latin corner of hell. But Satan had a plan. It was an evil plan, but sometimes good people can overcome their disastrous destiny and do better. I probably won’t cure cancer or step foot on Mars, and I will never play for the NFL, but I will forever work to give my mother and America as much, or more, that she has given me. That is a big debt, I know. But give me a chance, give me that ball and watch me run. I might surprise you.
The Asylum panel members read the brief, written and signed by Emmitt Ozario Sanchez. The petitioner sat before them in a straight-back chair and let the words do their work. He watched their hardened faces soften. They too were mother, sons, and fathers. Tears welled, and some streamed, tissues were passed.
The senior member of the board looked at Emmitt with watery eyes. He removed his glasses, dabbed twice, and glanced left and right at the panel. As each finished reading the petition, solemn nods were exchanged. The presiding judge red-stamped the entire Sanchez petition with: ADMIT
He stood up and reached out his hand. “Welcome to America.”
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link, and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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