The man who came to our village only spoke English. My father, already partially deaf, cocked his head as he listened. “Mojo,” Father said to me, “what’s he say?”
The foreigner called himself Peterson. He grinned a lot, his teeth clean and bright and straight, so much unlike our own, his corn-colored hair another oddity altogether.
He carried a thick book that had no pictures in it and he would turn it to different sections, reciting aloud, trying to get us to understand the words. He became animated when he read, his tone sharp, as if he was angry, though he remained smiling the entire time.
“God loves you,” he said. “Loves you just the way you are.”
When Peterson was hungry, we fed him fried cornmeal and wild tubers that grew between the rocks strewn against the mountainside where our homes were built on wilted stilts. When he was bored we let him read to us from the thick book.
He spent a lot of time with my sister. He liked to touch her hair while they played marbles. He tickled her ribs and armpits. He taught her a game he called Jacks which involved a rubber ball and tiny spikes of metal. Once, when the ball bounced away from my sister’s toss, skittering off the makeshift porch, all the way down the mountainside, Peterson said, “Now you’ve done it,” and tickled her some more.
Our house, like all the others, was a box put together with spit and mud, and so Peterson took my sister outside at night to avoid us hearing. I saw them once, two naked forms gleaming under the sad glow of moonlight.
One morning we woke and Peterson was gone. My sister bawled for weeks, and in the years that followed, she took countless other suitors. Maybe she missed Peterson too much. Perhaps he had shown her something she couldn’t live without, something she looked for in the men she went with.
Around the age of eighteen, my sister’s face grew sores, berry-red blisters. They ran down her neck and back like molten lava. Her elbows bled. She became ashen and weak and would not eat. During summer, when the sun was our archenemy, her sweating became relentless and she died while whimpering Peterson’s name.
Others died, too, one by one. There was no place on the hillside to bury them, so bodies were stacked in a valley below where a flock of squawking vultures stripped the bones bare.
I’ve been here alone, the last one left, for several months. I have no sores, no sickness, but I’m weak from lack of food.
Today an air machine with whirling blades landed in the plain below and now two men are working their way uphill. I have no idea if they’re carrying a book like Peterson’s, but I’ve loaded my bow and I’ve got many others arrows on hand. As soon as they’re close enough, I intend to shoot and keep shooting.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. His work appears widely in print and online at such places as Connotation Press, Boston Literary Magazine, Ofi Press of Mexico City, and others. Len’s story collection I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You debuts from Aqueous Books in 2014.
Lead image: “Colorful marbles” (via Flickr user StockyPics)