PostIT Fiction Challenge The Black Eagle
I stepped out of the small tavern onto the sun bleached wooden porch and gazed to the east towards mountain. The Sierra Madre Occidental ran their rugged and murderous path down the spine of Mexico. “Look at us brothers. Three old men rising from the grave once again to start the day,” I whispered to the mountain and the sun. My little town Suichate was wiping the sleep from its eyes. I could hear the soft drone of a helicopter far off in the distance. The military was patrolling the area near our village again. The Zapatista had seemed to be moving closer every day. Big black Nikos, my Labrador and friend, came out of the tavern, whimpered, and then nuzzled my hand. “Ok Nikos my boy is it time for breakfast?” I led the sleepy dog back into the tavern and filled his dish with a few meat scraps I had saved from the previous night’s dinner. He gorged loudly on the greasy scraps while I began wiping down the long bar top. Carlos, my son was the first customer of the day. He was part of that smelly clan of men who fished off the jetty for yellow-tailed tuna, but Carlos was set apart. His great determination to be the best at everything separated him from the average fishermen. Though his brain was a little slow he never came back from the jetty empty-handed and rarely stank as bad as most of the crusty tequila guzzlers that fished all day long did. Carlos had little in natural gifts like other men, but in fishing he was lucky and skilled. “And better a fisherman than a soldier,” I had always felt. I brought Carlos an iced Budweiser. Only Carlos received this American brand. He was my favorite son. Everyone else received only Tecate or Corona. The phone rang. I knew the call; it was Saturday, my other son Rios’ day off. I answered already knowing the content of the conversation; more attempts by Rios to persuade me to move to Miami. In the background Carlos yelled, “Viva la Mexico.” “Hello, Papa how is your health? When are you and Carlos coming to my home?” he asked. “ The mountains to the east and the ocean to the west are home." ” “Papa I have wonderful news that I think will convince you to leave your mountains forever. I have found a buyer for your tavern. I have gotten a good price for… ” “My tavern is not for sale Rios, I will never sell it,” I interrupted bitterly. “Viva la Chiapas, gringo puta,” Carlos yelled. “These people are dumb Americans; we will never find others interested in your tavern. The war is growing worse. I saw on CNN that the rebels are moving closer.” “My home is my home. I will not leave, you mean well, but I am staying. Carlos and I have nothing to fear from the war.”
I hung up the phone with a heavy feeling in my heart. I feared there might be a possibility of the war spilling over into our little village. I did not posses a television like Rios and was not always aware of things like him. I had come here originally because I thought it was too sleepy, too backwater for a revolution. But the Maya were pushed too far.
“So you are leaving soon for Miami aye Papa? Please get me some good American cigarettes while you are there and say hello to my brother Rios,” Carlos said, teasing me. I laughed softly and smiled at Carlos. He knew as well as I did that I would never leave here. “Rios thinks the Rebels will soon come soon.” “Many young men from town have run off to join them. I will not make that mistake will I Papa?” Carlos asked. “No Carlos, you will not. You will continue to be the best fisherman in Suichate.” A young American man entered the tavern. He looked tired and hung over. I had seen the man drive into Suichate two days ago in a blue jeep. He sat in the corner by the window. Nikos sat next to him to have his ears scratched. “Why is this place so dark? I feel like I am in jail,” the American said. “You are. The tavern had once been a government jail cell that held political agitators,” I answered in my heavily accented English. “You see those round, eh, how do you say, spots there on the floor? Those used to be the bars of the cell.” “Oh,” the American said. “I think we may get rain today. The clouds looked tired from holding all their water this morning,” Carlos said. “Yes, I think you are…” I was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. Nikos whined and ran behind the counter. “It’s very close. Sounds like rifles.” “What the hell was that?” said the American not understanding the Spanish I had spoken. He slid back in his chair scraping the gritty wooden floor and stood up walking towards the front door. “Senor!” Carlos said. The report of the rifle fire was even closer this time. Carlos and I instinctively ducked. A bullet penetrated the front door of the tavern. From under the table I watched the American’s legs buckle and he collapsed to the floor with a thud. Tiny dust particles danced in the single shaft of light that shone through the bullet hole in the door. Blood slowly oozed onto the floor from the large exit wound where the back of his skull used to be. Another volley of shots was fired from within the town. I heard several more bullets rip through the flimsy sun dried wood of the tavern. Carlos and I huddled closer together trying to escape the whizzing bullets. I peeked my head up from underneath the table. There were six bullet holes in the wall including the one in the front door. A large gouge had been made in the face of the white Formica counter face. The Americans blood had misted two tables and part of the south wall. Carlos came out from behind the table. He was rubbing his shoulder. I kept thinking what a mess we were in. I felt my hands begin to shake. Heavy boots echoed across the front porch. The small ray of sunlight shining through the hole in the door went black. The front door creaked open. A Zapatista soldier helping an injured man to walk stood in the doorway. The injured man moaned in pain. The unwounded soldier pushed the door aside with the barrel of his rifle. He trained the gun on Carlos, then me, for a second. I quietly told Carlos to raise his hands like I was doing to show the soldier we had no weapons. Seeing we were unarmed he ordered us against the back wall. I observed the man closely. He wore green and black fatigues stained with black mud, dark green foliage and blood. A small dented gray canteen hanging in a green mess pocket from his belt dripped tiny beads of water down his leg. He looked as young as the dead American, but less naïve. “Oh no, combat eyes,” I thought to myself. Stepping over the dead American the soldier helped the wounded man over to the middle table where Carlos and I had taken cover. A bullet hole the size of peso in his lower belly gushed dark blood. The rotten smell of his innards was beginning to drift around the tavern. The wounded man writhed on the table like a wounded snake. The soldier removed his canteen from the mesh pocket. He watched us closely as he poured water on the wound to clean it. The wounded man shrieked and batted the canteen away with his arm. He rolled over on his side. “Can I help you?” I asked. The soldier turned his rifle on me, aiming it at my chest. I began rolling my shirtsleeve up revealing my forearm. The soldier quickly brought the rifle to his shoulder and his finger tightened on the trigger. I stopped and raised my hands to show I had no tricks. “I only want to show you my tattoo Amigo.” I said shaking a bit more. I waited until the soldier’s finger relaxed on the trigger. I rolled my shirt sleeve a little past the elbow. The soldier stared at the four inch black eagle that was tattooed on the inside of my forearm. “Tlatelolco,” he said softly. With a rough shake of his head he invited me over to the table. “What can you do old man?” “How long ago was he shot?” “One half hour ago. I think the bullet is still inside him.” “We have to stop the bleeding. Carlos please bring us some towels and whiskey from behind the counter.” I said, worried the man would bleed to death soon. Carlos left the wall slowly; I think he feared the soldier might shoot him if he made a sudden move. The soldier watched him closely, but did not aim his rifle in his direction. He brought three white bar towels and a bottle of cheap brown whiskey to soak the wound with. The sun had moved to the west away from the window facing the mountain making the tavern even darker. The weak fluorescent lights on the ceiling tried to fight the shadows, but the darkness had to strong of a foothold established. The wounded soldier began howling in pain again. I could not keep the towels against the wound long enough to stop the bleeding. The wounded soldiers skin turned egg white and hot sweat poured out of his body. He gripped the side of the table scarring the wood with his dirty nails. His breath came in short steamy rasps. I knew he would die soon if he remained here. “The pain, the pain.” I took the soldier named aside and asked him if he had any morphine. I heard a familiar snuffle behind me. Nikos had overcome his fear and was sniffing the dead American. I was afraid he might lap the dark pool of blood that was forming on the floor near the remains of the Americans head. “Nikos,” I yelled at the dog to distract his attention away from the dead man. My angry voice drove him back behind the counter. Carlos walked over to the dead American and started to move the body outdoors, but the soldier shouted for him to stop. He harshly explained a dead body outside the tavern would alert the government soldiers to his presence. “We killed the three government soldiers that chased us, but they will send reinforcements by nightfall. Leave the dead gringo where he is.” I said in a low voice, “If your friend is not brought to a hospital very soon he will die. Then we will be trapped in here with two dead bodies.” “Surely you’ve spent time with dead bodies Senor Negro Aguila. That is what they once called you is it not? The Black Eagle eh? Did you think I wouldn’t recognize your tattoo?” he said. This shocked me. I had come south to escape that name and that war. No one here knew of it. Even Carlos knew only a little, mostly from what I cried out in my sleep during the constant nightmares. “Yes, I once called me the Black Eagle, but that was a long time ago. Now I am only Lupe. Let me save this boy. I have a jeep in town. I can get him to a hospital.” ”Trust you with him? I do not know if I should salute you out of respect, or shoot you as a traitor,” he said spitting on the floor. Carlos had been caught off guard by our conversation. I watched him standing by the front door dumbly holding onto the dead American’s arm. “Young recruits to this day show up at our camps wishing to kill government soldiers the way the great Negro Aquilla once did, even though you have been absent from our struggle for over twenty years. Only the strength of your legend remains. And now I find you alive cowering in this cesspool, it would have been better that you had died.” “It saddens me to know that I am still responsible for the death of so many young lives even though I left the war behind long ago,” I said, shaking my head slowly. “I can still save your young friend if you will let me.” As I finished answering the wounded soldier’s face turned from pale white to ashen gray. There were long pauses between his short breaths. His body relaxed as his life escaped him with a final extended breath. The soldier tried to control his face, but the emotions shook through his toughness. He looked away from his dead friend and began harassing me again to hide his grief. “So tell me traitor Eagle why did you leave the cause? You had killed so many during your time in the struggle. You would be a General by now,” he said sarcastically. “If I have a nightmare every evening for the rest of my life I will still not be able to erase the eyes of all dead I’ve created. Tell me boy do you have the dreams yet?” His face broke. Anger and sorrow competed to express themselves. He suddenly looked twenty years older. “His eyes are seeing the dead,” I thought. The tired sunlight leaking in through the cracks in the building light one side of his face while burying the other in shadow. “We fight for the freedom of our people Traitor Eagle. What do you do? Save us with your booze?” he shouted. I said nothing. I could not answer this young wild dog, not now. He had seen freedom extracted at gunpoint. My old wounds were still barely scabbed over. Seeing this immature reflection of myself brought the ugly memories back. I wanted to make clear to him that violence rarely led to freedom, at least not true freedom. “For thirty-two years I received medals from a string of dead Officers. Then at Tlatelolco when me and my unit rebelled and fought for the people very soon I was the one pinning the medals on soon to be dead soldiers. Nine bullet holes and a busted back failed to make me see the light. The war wasn’t worth the years I threw away. This will happen to you someday if you are not killed first.” ”I need time to think. Can you really get me out of this war? Miguel didn’t deserve to die like that,” he said looking at his dead friend. “I can try tomorrow morning if the soldiers have left. I’ll drive you all the way to Mexico City if you want. Maybe you can make a new life there.” The tavern was silent. No one spoke for two hours. Carlos went behind the counter to comfort Nikos. I brought some blankets out from the back closet and covered the dead soldier and the American. The soldier sat on his haunches in the corner and smoked. The storm I had observed crawling over the mountain earlier that morning finally made its way down the valley. The red clouds rolled over themselves and turned black. The first hot rain came as a fast sheet of water stirring the dust and cobwebs off the village. A few flies sought refuge from the storm in the tavern and absently buzzed around the dead American. The soldier suddenly cocked his ear towards the Sierra Madre del Sur. There was a soft humming noise, and then heavy weapon fire cut through the noise of the storm.
“Helicopters,” he said alarmed. He stepped around the table and headed for the door. I grabbed his arm. He stopped and looked directly into my eyes. “What do you want from me Traitor Eagle? Those bastards are killing my unit this very minute, “he said ripping his arm free from my grasp. “You cannot save your unit by yourself, you cannot save anyone out there. Stay here and at least save yourself.” He looked from Carlos to me trying to decide. I could see tears just under the surface of his hard face. Another loud burst of gunfire, this time AK 47’s, the weapon of his unit caught his attention. His face hardened again. “You can stay here and die of old age coward,” he shouted, “I will die saving my people.” “Wait! Your name. What is your name before you go?” “Juan.” As he left the tavern the phone began ringing insistently in the background. I went to the front door and watched him running towards the approaching helicopters. “Another battle lost,” I thought sorrowfully.