Jungle everywhere, bugs everywhere, heat everywhere. Tired horses lower their heads and sheathe their ears to squeeze through the branches, resin coating their sides. Ximi clicks for them to stop and slips to the ground. One of the horses neighs for the dark barn that awaits across the river, while another stomps on a fallen branch and an iridescent universe of beetle wings spills on the grass.
Ximi is untouched by the heat and the bugs and the jungle, untouchable even, as he sniffs out metal. The ground gives in a way that Ximi knows from previous trips. He claws through the moist earth, past the worms that uncoil and the ants that attack. He digs until the earth bubbles into piles. He uses a stone ax to cut through roots and a wooden plank to slice through the earth. The horses neigh at their own shadows, then they neigh at each other, bathed in moonlight, flexing and unflexing their legs to stay warm.
Ximi digs into the veins and arteries of the rainforest until he grabs something, the edge of something. A sharp piece of metal here, another there, some of it coated in a pale version of the sun. In another time—to more primitive eyes—it must have stood for something. He keeps digging until the cracks reveal a space below, filled with earth and rocks now, but empty at some point. Standing back, he realizes it’s one of many spaces hived together—there are more to the sides, more toward the depths below. He’s seen these before, relics of them, in Past Houses at the city.
More digging and there’s something inside, seated on a four-legged plank of that hideous white material, that plastic. He presses closer. It’s a skeleton of the mammals that existed millennia ago, poorly preserved, a vertebra here, the phalanxes of a five-fingered hand there. The bones crumble with the night breeze. Ximi points the tentacles from his face at the earth and senses an ocean of metal below, much more that he can dig out when the sun glazes the trees again tomorrow. He’s already thinking what to trade it for—an orchard, a pack of wolves, a daughter.
Federico Escobar grew up in Cali, Colombia, and after living in New Orleans, Oxford, and Jerusalem, spent most of the past decade in Puerto Rico—Hurricane María included. He has published short stories and poems, as well as academic articles and translations, in both Spanish and English. His literary work has been published or is forthcoming in Passengers Journal, Typishly, the Tulane Review, HermanoCerdo, Revista Eñe, and Stone’s Throw Magazine. A book of his memories as a widowed parent of a three-year-old is being considered by a publisher in Colombia. He currently works in education.