Return of the Death God


Maria listened to a distant woodpecker hammering at the soft pine outside the open window of the motel room just beneath the low, benzedrine-rattle from a next door AC unit. The air smelled of sour grease and rusted iron. Green pods hanging from a nearby catalpa shook in the muggy nighttime wind.      

She noticed a mass of dead Catawba grubs the shape of extinguished cigarettes in the crevice of the plastic-framed sill. 

There was no window facing the parking lot, but she had a wide view of its white pebbled gravel through the copper-rimmed aperture in her front door. She caught a brief whiff of pepper by the edge of the doorframe. She lifted the swiveling aluminum cover on the crooked nail to stare out at the discount neon surrounded by leafy darkness, then returned to the opposite side of the box-shaped room; back to the catalpa. 

The motel had only one floor but the foundation beyond her view of the flowering tree dropped twelve feet toward a deserted limb of railroad track as if she were looking out from a tower. She stood by the window. There was nothing to sit on but the lonely mattress. The scent of the night air was replaced by a sudden billow of marijuana. Someone was smoking outside, or out a window, hidden in darkness.      

She kept a long, blue bottle of ​Corralejo​ on the nightstand beside the lamp which she poured  into a styrofoam cup she had snagged from the lobby. An old woman at the front desk had been taking massive gulps from her stainless steel thermos, getting ready for a long third shift. The display had been set out for the guests and faced the front door. The liquid was dark in the coffee maker and gave off a dismal heat like black sunlight. She took the cup and the woman didn’t notice. The look of the bubbling coffee left her with a deep hunger, which she could only satisfy with what she had brought with her; it was too much trouble to find the nearest store in this foreign town. She had a few tortillas in aluminum foil and some buffalo jerky wrapped in parchment paper. 

She opened the nightstand drawer out of half-drunken curiosity and saw only an English language bible and the yellowing pages of a South Carolina/Georgia roadmap. 

Maria saw the bean pods hanging from the lone tree and felt the rough texture of loose fibers tightening around her throat. She coughed. The image of young men swinging from the further pines haunted her view; young black men floating in starched suits, some with rope and others with barbed wire set alight like hanging torches. All this time the gringos ​      ​had been crossing over to get drunk, screw girls and start fights in her bordertown and, yet, they had done worse to their own people. The scent wafting into her room had gone from the herbal, sweet stench of marijuana to the antique musk of tobacco. Whoever had been smoking in the dark was trying to throw off the scent. Still able to see the memories of lynched men’s agonized expressions, she closed the window. 

She sat alone and swallowed another sip of tequila (she preferred whiskey, but the ​Corralejo ​was all she had with her) and ate another tortilla.      

Someone knocked at the door three times. 

She made no sound as she peered through the whole in the door: a younger white man in a green camouflage shirt with a breast pocket and a worn baseball cap. He had a five o’clock shadow. This boy was most likely the foreman’s son she had been told about with the under-the-table work. 

She spoke reluctantly. 

“Who is it?” 

“Soy yo, hijo de el charro.” 

El Charro? What kind of 19th-century indentured servant had taught this kid Spanish? She could forgive the bad grammer, but why use such a word? 


“I got the…trabajo. You’re looking for trabajo, right?” 

“What’s your name?”


They had told her his name would be Billy. 

“Okay, Billy. I’m going to open the door.” 

She took the pruner knife from her bag and tucked it into her back pocket, then retracted the     deadbolt and removed the chain. 

He stepped inside and sat down on the bed, leaving her standing over him awkwardly to close the door.   

“Sorry, I’ve been on my feet all day long.”     

He rubbed his knees through his pants. 

“You speak English?”    

“A little,” she said. 

“Yeah, I been tryin’ to pick what Spanish I can from whoever I can pick it up from. But that ain’t the way to do it. Least not for me. I don’t have the time though to take a class and I wouldn’t know where to find one to sign up for. Am I talking too fast?” 


“You understand me? Me intender?” 

She wanted to correct his grammar, but it seemed improper since he was offering her work. 

He reached into his pocket, and she became tense. Her hand grazed the outline of the collapsed pruner blade behind her. 

He took out the contents of his jeans: his car keys, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and a folded scrap of computer paper. He left everything strewn out on the bed and unfolded the corners of the white paper.      

“This is…uh…directions to the farm. You’ll need’em.” He handed her the rigid sheet.  “You don’t got a car do you?” he said. 

“I’m going to ride with Luella.” 

“Okay. Well, I brought you that just in case. People’s rides fall through all the time. Folks end up walking. If you have to walk you can follow those directions just as well, but you need to get goin’ about an hour early. It’s an hour on foot, right? Don’t be late. Being late get’s the old man ticked off more than anything. I know time is funny to you people, but in America time is money.”      

She glanced at the directions. 

“I understand.” 

“How long you been in the States?”     

“A while,” she said. 

“I figured. You speak good English.” 

“Thank you.” 

“How long you been in SC?”


“South Carolina.”

“Four days.”

“So you need some work then?”

“I could always use work.”

“I heard that. Way it works with us is, we take you on for the day, sunup to sundown, and then we pay cash for the day. When you get your cash, we’ll tell you if we wanna see you tomorrow. If you get to come back the next day, you can bet we’ll need you the rest of the week. Now, it isn’t a honeymoon. Just cause you work for us for a while don’t mean we’ll need you forever. Everyday you work for us, you got to see it as temporary. Now, tomorrow when you work, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll get your cash and the word, the word as to whether we’ll need you to come back. There’s gonna be days when you’ll get the word, but we can’t get you your cash. You’ll have to respect that and wait a day for your money. Banks take holidays and other shit. Just the way it is. Understand?”      

“I understand,” she said. 

“Good, that’s good. And another thing, you don’t know us. You don’t know us and we don’t know you.

Anybody asks, anybody in plain clothes or a suit, you just shrug and say you don’t speak any fuckin’ English. Say one thing about us and we call ICE and you go back where you came from.”      

“I understand.” 

“Then we understand each other,” he said, scooping up his pack and lighter from the bed linen. “I’m gonna open your window here.” 

She watched him as he stepped to the other end of the room and opened her window. He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke, uselessly, into the center of the room. He pointed with his glowing ember at the tracks below. 

“Hasn’t been a train through this town since I was ten years old. Used to stay up at night and listen to the whistle blaring. You could hear it and see the lights across the fields like it was going somewhere better than here.” 

She watched him as he stared at the tracks.      

He asked her if she missed Mexico. 

“No,” she said. “But I miss my son.” 

“He back home? With the husband? Grandfolks?”


Billy didn’t say anything. He pointed to the bottle of tequila. 

“That’ll have to be our little secret.” 

She went silent as he walked over to the nightstand and picked up the bottle to read the label. 

“You mind?”

She handed him her cup. 

He plucked the cork from the top. 

“Nah, I’m not prudish,” he said before drinking it straight. He wiped his bristled chin.

“That’s better than anything I’ve had lately.”      

She placed the cup on the TV set. 

He put the bottle down on the nightstand and barely attempted to put the cork in the top. He turned to her and stroked her chin as he took a deep drag from the cigarette. 

“You’re a little older but you’re still pretty,” he said. “Any white man ever tell you you’re pretty?”      

“A few,” she said, letting him touch her. 

He moved his hand to her shoulder. 

“You know there’s things you can do to guarantee you a job.” 

“What kinds of things?”

“Fun things mostly. Fun things we could do right here.” 



She moved his hand off her shoulder. 

“What if I don’t want to do that? What if I just want to work?”    

He shrugged. 

“How bad do you really want to work though? You know? Everybody wants to come through and work. How are you gonna stand out? I’m a good lover, I’m sure you’ll end up liking it anyway. Don’t nobody have to know. Let me kiss you.” 


“Just let me kiss you.” 

He stood over her, looking down. His prick was hard, he rubbed it against her belly button.      She could see him taking women away in his truck, bending them over behind hay bales, young girls and old women, pulling at their hair like rope. 

“I don’t want you to kiss me,” she said. “I don’t know you. Maybe we go do something later after I work for you.” 

He forced her hand onto his crotch. 

“Come on, you gonna pass this up? Feel it. That’s some serious equipment. You can’t tell me no

Mexican ever had one like that.” He placed his thumb over her lips. “You want to work or not?”

“Put that out. I don’t like the smell.” 

She gestured toward the cigarette in his hand. 

“Oh, sorry,” he said and flicked the cigarette out the window. 

He grabbed the bottle and took a mouthful, swished loudly and spit the liquor out the window in a visible mist like a shaman blessing a sacred space. 

“That should take care of the breath,” he said. 

“Why do you want to kiss me?”

“I wanna do more than just kiss you.” 

She went toward her bag and got out a small travel bottle of shampoo. 

“I want you to be clean. You’ve worked all day.” 

He grabbed the back of her hair and pushed her against the wall. She faced him. He took both her wrists and squeezed them together with the power of his single hand. The shampoo dropped to the floor.      

“You don’t exactly smell like a desert rose yourself. You wanna work in this country, tax free, leaching off the rest of us, you gonna have to put out once in a while. Nobody rides free.” 

He tightened his grip on her hair and shoved her across the room, deliberately tripping her on his boot. She missed the bed and burned her forearms across the carpet. He noticed the pruner knife in her back pocket. 

“Don’t fucking move,” he said as he took the blade. “The hell kind of piece-of-shit tool is this?”     

“It’s for branches and sticks.” 

He tapped the blade against his knee. 

“Ain’t too sharpe. What, were you going to stab me with this if I got too rough?” 

Her face was hidden in her hair. She remained on the floor. 

“It was sharp enough for you,” she said. 

“The fuck you talking about?” he said, cleaning the dirt from under his thumb with the hooked edge. 

“It was sharp enough for you to use on her,” she said in a much more fluid, American-English voice.

“When you started to cut her. It was sharp enough then. You carved designs in her back. You slashed open one of her breasts. You tore into her face. Then you raped her. You stuffed her face into the pillow and suffocated her so no one could hear her screaming. She died and you were still raping her.” 

“I haven’t done anything like that to anybody.” 

“Not yet. But you do eventually. Next few minutes in fact. You do it every night. Over and over again.” 

He collapsed the blade and tossed it aside, then put his things back in his pockets. 

“What are you like an undercover cop or something?”

“How could a cop know what you’re about to do before you do it?” 

“You’re fuckin’ with my mind. Are you trying to pin something on me?” 

“I’m just telling you what you did.” 

“I’m out of here. You’re a fuckin’ psycho. You can forget about work.” 

“You knew in the back of your mind when you saw her, she wasn’t gonna make it to work the next day.” 

He went for the door and tried to open it. The bolt was loose and chain had been unhooked, but the door wouldn’t budge. 

“Let me out!” 

“I can’t let you out.” 

“Let me out of your room.”      

“This is your room now.” 

He set both his feet on the wall and pulled at the doorknob, prying it off the door as he fell onto the bed. He lay there, holding the broken knob.        

“What is this?” 

She was still face down on the floor. Her voice carried through the room, echoing within his thoughts. 

“This is your corner of the Mictlān.” 

A brown hawk carrying a limp rattlesnake in its claw flew inside through the window. The massive raptor draped the snake carcass along the television set and perched itself beside it, clicking its claws on the worn plastic, knocking away the styrofoam cup 

Maria’s image rose from the floor, still horizontal, floating above him, her hair fluttering as if suspended in water. A golden aura shimmered along the silhouette of her face, which appeared to him as an exposed skull. She reached out her hand and the hawk flew to her wrist. 

“Who are you?”

She said nothing and passed through the ceiling. 

He stared down at his hands and only saw blood. There was blood on the sheets, blood on his abdomen, blood smeared on the headboard of the bed where Maria lay, her face in the pillow. He had blood underneath his fingernails.  


Connor de Bruler has been published in The Rambler, Pulp Metal Magazine, Fleas on the Dog, FRESH, The Horror Library Vol. 6, Yellow Mama, and The New Flesh. He is the author of three novels : Tree Black, The Mountain Devils, and Olden Days.