Antagonists – Chapter 1 (Explicit Version)
A HAZY sun settles between two ridges splayed like camel humps. Its rays cover the arid sky in a blood-orange liquid blended then spewed out past the unknown. The horizon creates an ether smoldering in gun smoke and gassy fumes. This is the world up in arms against a young pair on the street. They walk, at the same time scared and at peace, cackling loud as possible, as is expected. They are, in a sense, possessed by the time and place they walk in. The magic of these twilight hours affects them as such:
“So, how many girls did you see kidnapped?” she says.
“Wait, wait. You act like I was the one doing the kidnapping. I didn’t have no part of that. Damn, why’s it so damn hot?”
“Maybe if you didn’t wear those turtlenecks all the time— Anyway, I just assumed ‘cuz you were with them—”
“T, let’s change the subject, all right?”
“Whatever. I bet you not gonna say it, though.”
Joe turns to his older sister with sure eyes, cigarette smoking off his ear. She is only challenging him. That’s all she ever does.
“Why you think so? I’m a killer with the ladies.”
“Two hot girls just passed us two minutes ago and you didn’t even bat a eye.” Then in Spanish, (You’re a loser with the chicks, ‘güey’).
They stroll down La Matanza upon an opportune victim who’s bending over to fill a bucket with water. The effect is of a person gleaming with their face clear and wide at the sky — just trade a wide face for a wide rear end. Joe can’t back down this time. He tugs on his turtleneck.
“Hey, ‘mami’! That’s my favorite position right there!”
Joe calls with a whistle like he’s about to hit a home run. After grabbing his crotch in mockery, he then raises the cigarette to his mouth and nudges his sister.
(Look what passes, Teresa.)
As the woman rises and turns around, both Joe and Teresa gasp. The random behind (turned-face) is actually their well-known …
“Emily?! Is that you?”
She sees that it’s Joe and pours her bucket on the ground in excitement. Nevermind the drought, then.
“Oh, little ‘hombre ’! You want some’a this?”
“No! No, Ma’am. ‘Perdona’, Señora Emily.” Then to Teresa, “Damn, bro, why I always gotta flirt with old bitches?”
She responds, “I wonder the same thing.” Emily gives Joe a wink, and he nearly vomits.
“Haha! If you want it, ‘papacito’, I can do this position all-day-long!”
She licks her lips. Joe starts running.
“Why are you — ?”
“Come on, ‘conmigo’ … Hurry!”
They both run away as Teresa stomps, balling in laughter.
“I was gonna be sick, yo.”
“That’s your own damn fault, Joe,” she says as they decelerate upon a bridge. Catching their breath, the siblings lean over on its barrier. They rest above what should be a canal, now dry but of what looks like a few sorry streams of urine.
Joe points his finger in her face.
“You the one who dared me! Look, I need to get buzzed with Remy tonight. This is too much.”
“Oy, Mamá’s not going to like this.”
“That’s why you don’t tell Mamá, all right?” says Joe. They hear a dull moan resounding in the area … somewhere.
“If you’re going to get drunk, I’m getting drunk too.”
“Nah, you don’t wanna do that. Don’t you have to work at the hospital tonight?”
“Ahh, I always work, though. I wanna have some fun. And why should I? They pay me scraps for what I was making up in Cali. I don’t know why the hell we moved to this dump,” says Teresa to her brother.
“Well, you don’t wanna hang with Remy. Number one, guy is bad news. He eats this mixture of ‘cucarachas’ and ‘chicharrones’ every morning with sour milk. His breath stays kicking.”
“I don’t give a fuck about what he eats! It’s not like I’m gonna kiss that foo’.”
“Now I can imagine you kissing him. Yuck! … With both of y’all’s bad breaths. I’m gonna be sick again.”
She gasps for effect. “You forget that I can’t stand Remy, after what he did to me? He deserves to get his little ‘pitito’ cut into pieces and fed to the coyotes. Jerk.”
“Damn, now you sound like the thugs I was working for.”
“That’s not true,” she replies, socking him on the deltoid. “I still can’t believe you just walked out on the fricking cartel. Like, that could be a issue, right? Don’t you put me and Mamá through enough hard times?”
“Put you through? What about me, Teresa? I’m the one that’s gotta sleep at night, then wake my ass up to look for work. ‘¿Sabes qué?’ I’m not even scared of those creeps. I’m more terrified of the chance of having a stinky ‘cucaracha’-muncher in my life. I mean, if you marry that guy, I gotta smell his breath every single day. That’s the worst punishment in hell right there.”
Joe gets distracted.
“I told you I wasn’t going to kiss him. I’m not no ratchet.”
“Shh! Yo, you hear that?”
They stop to listen carefully.
“What the heck is that?”
They look at each other, then down into the concrete trenches.
“’Holaaaaa’,” he says, echoing into the walls of that excuse for a canal below them.
On one side at the bottom lies a darkly dressed — raggedy dressed — man who appears to have several open wounds to the head. He also won’t stop moaning.
“Oh.” Joe looks back to Teresa. “It’s just a homeless guy.”
(Poza-a. Fear, the Poza Roja,) the man babbles, then repeats. Teresa turns to her brother, puzzled.
“Poza Roja?” she mutters. “What the hell … ? Weirdo.”
They continue walking towards the fiery horizon.
“So yeah, like I said, I ain’t afraid of no cartel.”
“Are you sure about that? ‘Cuz it looks like they just ran out of places to dump bodies. All in the canals and shit.”
“Oh, definitely not. Remy is way worse than they could ever be.”
A truck buzzes past them on the road headed to the border. Teresa catches a glint as it flashes off the metal doors … or off some other piece of metal on the inside.
. . .
Brother and sister carry on till they reach a break in the fog where the sun can really influence their skin. A few gangsters and girl traffickers walk ahead of them insipidly. Of all the commotion at the moment, Joe takes the most notice in a trail of red ants on the sidewalk. He pulls on Teresa’s hood to disallow her murdering any of them.
“What?!” she yells, heavily disturbed by the content of the tug, and, to say, its randomness. “The hell is wrong with you?”
Joe looks struck, as if her reaction was coated by some weird amphibology. She pushes him back, and he points at the ground. “Ant lives matter too.”
She looks to the concrete and finds the large ants.
“Can’t you see those?” Joe asks.
“I can’t believe I missed them.”
“I can. You’re always talking too damn much.”
“Well they’re big as a German shepherd. If I stepped on one, it might fight me for a bone.”
“They’re like little people,” Joe says heartily, stroking his sister’s hair. Teresa herself is surprisingly consensual in the matter. “Well, not that kind of little people.”
“Grab me a cudgel so I h-whoop your be-hind!”
“See? They even talk like people,” cries Joe. “It’s like they have their own weird dialect.”
“Grab me a stick, foo’!”
“I can almost hear them talking to my soul.”
“No, ‘mano’, that’s Emily again.” Joe looks up from the ants and sees Emily passing by on a shaved-ice cart.
“Oh, hey Señora Emily. Started your fifth job today, I see.”
“You the one better be looking for a job, ‘mijo’. Your Mamá and Teresita here cannot do it all, you know. And take that turtleneck off! It’s too hot, ‘por Dios’.”
“Joe knows he’s a bum, Ms. Emily.” Teresa laughs. “(And don’t worry yourself.) We weren’t fighting. Just saving some ant-people, right? All the bugs are starting to come out this time of day.”
“Well, you know they got all kind of crazy insects out here. Just like the ones those ‘Locas’ Rojas or whatever use on their neck. What’s it called? Ahh … Yellowjackets!”
. . .
I was born in a humble chamber, nothing too high-class. Even as a little larva I constantly heard my mother, Queen of queens, explain how free the world is for a yellowjacket like me. Her voraciousness pushed me to work as soon as my legs grew in. Tough times.
I never knew my father, never wanted to. Mother’s own melancholy and greed killed her, and I promised myself within those early days that I’d never end up like her; so powerful, so delusional — so vain.
Growing up was hard. I was always picked on for being slightly off-yellow while my peers were golden and pure. My black was deep, however. I was known as little Jet. I gathered myself one day, gleaming in a bright new exoskeleton, still soft upon my flesh.
I had a stinger! And wings! I was ready to fly from all my problems, to live on my own as an independent wasp. I tried to remember all the positive mother, Queen of queens, had taught me, and I vowed to go where none of my kind had ever gone before. I fled that wonderful phantasm of a world I call home, and I ventured out over many fields every day.
Some days were hard. When it poured, I made refuge in a hole in the sand. It would rain and the wind would blow, but victory was my savior. Screw their clan! I’ve got my own clique. I was determined to stay alive and to take care of my own hide.
In the throes of hunger, I found a man half dead and ate some of him. He was a goner, so I knew I could get away with it and survive. And such good feed he was! Flesh was such a marvelous surprise, an, an elixir in my mandibles! Before long, I came upon a man with a similar half-dead appearance, though his neck was guarded to the brim.
Expressing my new infatuation with digging holes and eating meat, I found a hole on him. But if he were to swat at me? Oh, I could surely sting him. Just stick “one of these” right in him. Then he’d stop. Perfect plan!
And so I closed in upon him, aiming for the hole. It would be him or me, and I bore total faith that it was going to be …
“’Puta! — madre—’”
(‘Güey’, what passed?) asks Teresa as her brother swings an arm at his own ear.
“A dang bee just tried to fly in my ear. Got bug juice all in there. Damn.”
“Ho-o, really? Let me see.”
Joe shows her the bits and niblets of the insect that were spread out on his hand.
“Yeah, that’s sick, bro. And your ear’s knotted up too. It looks like those yellowjackets Emily was talking about,” she says.
“You think it stung me? I mean, what if I’m allergic? Could I die?”
An old red Impala pulls up slowly playing Grupera followed by a honking trailer behind it.
“Ey,” a whistle, “Come on. (¡’Jale’! What are you doing, ‘huevón’?)
The guy and gal in the red car pay him no mind. More honking. Joe starts to itch his neck. Then his ear.
“Maybe I should ask somebody … you know, about this sting,” suggests Joe, nodding at the couple. Nearly getting hit by the angry trailer, he crosses the road to the cruising Impala. As he approaches, he spots the driver’s hand under the female companion’s skirt.
Joe clears his throat. “Is that safe, homes?”
He quickly removes his hand from its pleasant former location and raises it high.
“Sorry, uh, officer. I wasn’t doing anything. Of course, driving.” The driver embellishes his performance with a nervous grin and a wink.
“I’m not ready!” the lady starts before breaking into tears. “I’m not ready to go to jail! Ahhh! How did they know you were rolling, Enrique?”
“Shh! Hey, I didn’t tell nobody. Why you blaming me, huh?”
“Well, how else would they know, ‘chingado’? I am a good girl, never done anything to nobody. Tell him that.”
“I mean, that’s a lie. You done plenty of bad things to me,” says Enrique.
“Bitch, you almost got me killed last week in a fight over your ‘culito’.”
“No I didn’t!”
“Would you let me fucking— ?”
“Ah, shut up, you baby,” she hisses.
(You shut yourself, with your little culi— )
“Guys, look. I’m not no cop,” Joe says. He motions with his hands for them to be silent. Enrique flinches, fearing he might pull a gun.
“(Woah, like this no.) I can’t go out like this!”
“I am not no cop, dummies.”
“Thank God!” says the lady. The green in her eyes catches Joe’s in an instant. He looks down, embarrassed.
“Not a …” Enrique pulls out a rifle from the car floor.
“Homes, I should kill your ass,” he says, aiming at Joe’s head.
“Hey! Heyey, what are you doing?” Teresa yells from the sidewalk. A touch of fear shakes in her timbre.
“(Wait, sis.) Just hold up. Don’t budge.”
“But this fucker is pointing a fucking gun at you!”
“Shut up! Shut the fuck up! I know what it is.” Joe starts shaking.
“You’re crazy, man, ‘¿sabes?’ Real crazy with that chick over there calling me names,” the man in the Impala tells Joe.
“I can’t control her. You know what I mean?”
“Well, you better turn into God real fucking fast, motherfucker.”
“Just chill, (all tranquil).”
“I ain’t gonna chill, homes! I will shoot your head off right here.” A beat. (What is it with your neck, ‘cabrón’?)
“Wait, ‘vato’, wait. Lemme scratch. I got stung by a yellowjacket.”
The lady in the car leans forward to hear better.
“A yellowjacket? (Is like, ‘este’… a wasp?)”
“Yeah, you know those?”
The lady taps her driving companion and tells Joe, “You need to go to the hospital, homes. See if you are allergic. You don’t want your face to swell up or nothing.”
“Thank you! That’s literally all I came to ask,” Joe says, peeved and a bit shaken.
“Sure. I’ll see you around,” she says, waving at him as if seizing the air in her fingers, or clawing it with her excessive nails.
“Yo, V, how do you know about yellowjackets?”
Joe walks away before he can hear “V’s” answer. In a fit he yells, (Ah, but you don’t wait!) at the honking trailer.
“You all right?” asks Teresa. “All I could hear was ‘culito’.”
“They need couple’s therapy, for sure.”
“I asked, are you all right?”
They had barely escaped a close, albeit weird, encounter with a wild man and his gun. Things are quieter now.
Every organism can feel the sun’s absence at once as it dips behind the hills. The toxic red sky turns to a venomous purple. But there was still one more danger to resolve.
“Where’s the hospital? I feel my throat clogging up.”
Chapter 2 coming soon