Darkness engulfed the mountain plateau and Aníbal Coloma’s restless sleep. In the bleak and hostile night, terror materialized as two distant points of light. A pair of tired but vigilant eyes caught them as they suddenly appeared, little more than pinpricks, emerging faintly in the dark. The moment he spies them, he tenses and stands as if electrified, like a gazelle catching the scent of an invisible predator in the brush, and is consumed by fear. His gaze penetrates the deep shadows. The pinpricks of light waver, twinkle and sway, sometimes go out, only to appear again moments later. Yes, they’re moving. They’re winding up the rocky road from La Torca, and he watches them grow larger, until soon, hoarse and sinister, heralding pain, he hears the sound of a diesel engine. They’re coming for him and his brother; no doubt about it. Might have been a tip-off, a suspicious farmworker nearby, diligent police work, or just damn bad luck, but it doesn’t matter now. Celso runs to the ramshackle shed, holding his breath, clenching his fists, and shakes his brother Aníbal, curled up under a pile of blankets, dozing tenuously, afraid. “It’s them! They’re nearly here! Run! Run!”
Still fully clothed, Aníbal leaps out of the cot, his heart pumping madly, jumps into his boots, grabs his fur-lined jacket and wool hat, and races as fast as he can after Celso, who’s already heading up the hill, gun in hand, hunched and panting—“Sons of bitches!”—toward the oak forest. Uphill, scratching their hands and faces on brambles hidden by the night, barely able to see one another, feeling only the fleeting clouds of exhausted, frosty breath around their faces, the panic pushing them ever forward. Aníbal is young, twenty-three years old, and agile. He soon catches up to his brother and leaves him behind. “Come on, Celso! Hurry! Let’s go!” “No, you go. Run, run! Don’t stop!” Aníbal hesitates, goes back a few steps to haul his brother forward, imbue him with the energy that is seeping out with every jagged breath and froth of spit. “Escape, Aníbal. Save yourself.” And Aníbal, who can hear voices drawing closer, their pursuers’ footfalls, sets off again, his eyes glassy and brimming. The bastards. “Celso! Keep going, Celso!”
Aníbal is now running with everything he’s got, trying to reach the thick woods as fast as he can, when a flash of light reaches him, followed by two shots and a scream of pain. “That son of a bitch is mine!” someone bellows.
Save yourself. Escape. That’s all there is now, the only thought buzzing in Aníbal’s head as he continues to run, uphill, downhill, tripping in the dark, falling, cutting his forehead, and his nose, getting back up to run again, not a single sound of complaint, not a single groan, just his labored, gasping breath. Save yourself. That’s all that matters.
Aníbal can no longer hear the pack behind him. He is all alone in the hills and the night. The sky has finally cleared, and weak moonlight falls over the charred brush. The woods are far behind him now. He continues to run, and as he flies downhill, dodging stumps and branches, terror gives way to a controlled fear that allows him to think as he nears the road, all of his energy nearly spent.
If he just can get to the city, if the buggers haven’t blocked the roads, there’s a good chance he can get out of this. You’ve got to be careful, think it through, consider every detail, anticipate the unexpected and formulate a watertight plan to flee the country. Leaving is the only option, his only chance, and he can’t afford to make a single mistake. He’s on his own now, and a wanted man, ever since Celso took down that police officer, firing five shots into the open car window— motherfucker Captain Canales!—when it stopped at a traffic light. They set the dogs on them that same day and were in hot pursuit, though Aníbal had nothing to do with the Canales affair; he hadn’t even known they’d been planning it for weeks. But he was Celso’s brother, and the police were clearly not going to give up the chase.
Aníbal was a member of the party, too, because Celso had brought him into it—“The time for fun and games is over, Aníbal”—and he had agreed, of course, because Celso was right, because the struggle had to be organized and methodical to be effective, and because his brother was an extraordinary, exemplary man who knew what he was doing. But those comrades Aníbal would sometimes see Celso talking to, the ones watching him out of the corner of their eyes, over where he’d be waiting quietly, even though they knew him, even though they knew he was the great man’s brother, no, he didn’t entirely trust them. He wouldn’t turn to them now. He couldn’t run that risk; he needed to know who he could trust and who he couldn’t; he’d already heard rumors about infiltration, so he’s on his own against his pursuers.
Aníbal finally reaches the road, but hangs back, crouching down behind some bushes along the shoulder. He needs to catch his breath and gather his thoughts, make sure he’s out of danger, ensure that, at the very least, this first stretch of hope is clear.
He doesn’t know how much time has passed, but he has recovered his energy, his breathing is back to normal, he has wiped his hands and face with a handkerchief, and the cold has begun to grip him again. There’s no sign of the police. Only two cars have passed, both heading down, toward the city, so he decides to try his luck and stop the next one to come along. Aníbal heads onto the road and begins to walk toward the capital, which must be about forty kilometers away. Within a few minutes, he hears the stutter of hydraulic brakes, then sees the glimmer of headlights. Playing it safe, he leaves the road and hides his slim body behind a tree, but as soon as he sees the vehicle coming around a corner and confirms it’s only a truck, nothing more, he steps onto the asphalt, one hand in his pocket, his collar turned up around his neck, his shoulders hunched, and waves his other hand in a gesture meant to be both friendly and feeble. Success. The truck stops a few meters ahead. Aníbal grins and exhales, jogs up to it, climbs into the warm cab and cups both hands around the cup of hot coffee offered him. The truck sets off again. Always prudent, Aníbal has prepared a credible story to explain his ungodly presence in that middle of nowhere, but doesn’t have to use it; the driver is a man of few words. Aníbal remains alert along the way, scanning the road as best as his tired eyes allow, in case he needs to open the door and jump out on the run, in case a checkpoint or anything suspicious appears. And even though the driver seems like a nice, calm guy, you never know, he might suspect something and try to betray him, so watch out for that, too.
The radio is on, and the time signal begins. It’s odd, but those beeps, so familiar, so ordinary, seem to wake Aníbal from a sinister dream, bringing him back to the real world, after the unreal hours he has spent floating through a strange, gloomy ether, as if his brother’s shakes never woke him at all, as if he had been asleep as he ran through the hills enveloped in darkness. Six o’clock. Aníbal listens to the news as he sips his coffee: nothing. The truck has almost reached the base of the mountain, but the city is farther still, at the end of the valley, and light is just beginning to reach the highest terraces. A bluish swath appears in the blackened sky, growing larger, like a tide made of air, tinting the waking city with indigo. Suddenly, he can see Celso’s face and hear his anguished screams as he was shot, and these memories, together with the cold that has penetrated his bones, that the heat in the cab cannot reach, cause Aníbal to shake so hard he has to hold tight to the cup— “Careful, kid, or you’ll wreck my truck”—so as not to spill his coffee. It’s a bitterly cold autumn.
When they finally reach the outskirts of the city, the trucker stops at a gas station and invites Aníbal in for a coffee, or a sandwich if he’d like, at the bar that’s already in full swing, but Aníbal declines, thanks him and sets off. The streets are busy with car and foot traffic, the ideal time to pass for a worker on his way to the factory; plus, it’s better to head straight to a hideout than risk going into that bar. You never know who might be there.
Aníbal has decided to ask an old friend to take him in for a few days, or weeks, and he doesn’t live too far away.
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Carter