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Excerpt From 'Bloodletter' photo

José’s chest pains creep up on him. He sleeps through any relief. His dreams fill with bell towers, stabbing deaths, his lifeless body dragged by split fingernails into consciousness. Bloodless, like a video game with bad graphics, his aches are impossible to describe. Mom and dad are his only friends. The doctor prescribes an antacid. He lies to his mom that it helps. Alone beneath ceiba trees, deep in an afterschool spasm, he addresses everyone who won’t listen, who can’t understand, pretending to be unashamed. “I’ll show you what it means to lose something.” He watches baseball, but is too small to sign up, angst without an outlet, sport shirts worn every day. A nebulosity of seeds asphyxiates him. The cows at Villa Hermosa, a ranch about a mile from his family’s farm, are lost in overgrown grass. Farmers pile scraps, rotting vegetables, and bags of feed in green plastic crates. José loads the truck bed and drives, cows sauntering after obscured by a whirlwind of dust the vehicle’s kicked up. Contents dumped in a field, he parks a little ways away and takes an apple from his pack, mimicking the cows’ mouths. Men he doesn’t recognize pull over in another truck. Adrenaline shoots through him, compounding the tightness of his chest. He wishes he’d fed his pet lizard Pablo. A wormy man hangs from the passenger window. He gestures for José to approach. Thick teal smoke sieves out. “We’re looking for our goat,” he says. “You seen him?”

José says he hasn’t, hands nervously wiping his jersey.

“You know this property?”

“I work here afternoons.”

“We seen you. Help with finding the goat. We’ll pay.”

José’s family is too poor to buy another box of antacids. He hops in the truck bed, standing next to a guy smoking a cigar. “I’m Elio,” he drones as they drift a half moon, kicking up rocks towards Santa Elena. Breathing’s increasingly a chore. “Won’t be long. Our flock is attentive...” His eyes look drawn over his sombrero’s shadow. They’ve driven a mile before Elio empties the sack of potatoes he’s been sitting on and throws it over José’s head. They laugh off his undersized escape attempt. Colors swirl about the stitching. He imagines a death so horrible it earns him his father’s respect.

They lean the boy over the edge of the truck and signal for me to approach. I need an additional brain and finger bones to keep an unusually large shipment of cocaine safe on its way into the United States and have sharpened a machete all day. My eyes won’t twinkle without the prerequisite of ritual perfection. The gods, who I am tasked with protecting, bow before me as I approach. Girlish screams stay muffled. Elio looks like he’s about to vomit. I’ve never allowed him this close to a sacrifice. The others laugh cartoonishly, El Duby’s meager teeth clinging precariously to his gums. José is bent and placed on a two-by-four. I slide my nganga beneath, so the contents to follow will drop in. Tracing a giant arch, I lop mid-neck. The sack falls, cauldron raising to collect every drop, iron licking back at the flow. I carry it to the shed, preparing to cook the brain, but recognize him as he rolls free and walk back, holding José. 

“Elio, the fuck is this?” I lift José’s head higher. The eyes seem to perceive those who have betrayed him. “We need another sacrifice.”

“Grabbed the first dude we saw…like you said. Just some kid.”

“You don’t recognize José? How do you not recognize our little cousin José?” I peer from the slack facial muscles to Elio. José’s small and lonely body is tucked against the truck, each finger cut with a pair of garden shears.

The following week, my aunt and uncle, José’s parents, weep to the community, begging for financial support. Even though they disowned me long ago, I consider assisting them. José never irked me on purpose. Upon reading their newspaper article, noting the big list of items they need help purchasing, I laugh. How much can you care for someone if you can’t afford to dress them in a body bag?

Bloodletter is out on Ampetamine Sulphate now. Get it here.