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Aguila Gigante

January 3, 2013

Happy New Year, everyone!

Twelve months ago I celebrated the arrival of 2012 with ‘Spinky’, my children’s story about a magical spider.  Now I shall do the same for 2013 with ‘Aguila Gigante’ (Spanish for ‘Giant Eagles’).

‘Aguila’ is a completely rewritten and greatly expanded version of one of my earliest pieces, ‘Black Eagles’, dating from June 1980.  A true collaboration between the young dad and Grandy!

Although unstated, ‘Aguila’ is set in post-revolutionary Mexico, somewhere around 1922 or ’23.  The locale is an amalgam of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts.  The Giant Eagles of my creation are man-eating monsters but probably not quite so big as the extinct Argentavis of Argentina, six million years ago, with its seven metre wingspan.

‘Aguila’ is a ‘quest’ story for publication in illustrated form for children of 9 – 12 years of age.  Like most of my short fiction, it’s intended for reading aloud as well as on the page.

Hope you like it.  And here’s wishing you all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013!

 

AGUILA GIGANTE

 

Joaquin was a skinny boy with a Big Dream.  He lived in a faraway, Spanish-speaking country many years ago.  He was an only child, twelve last birthday, and lived with Mamá in a tumbledown adobe house on the edge of the desert.  They were very poor.

    Joaquin didn’t mind going hungry but minded very much that Mamá went hungry too.  He didn’t mind the pantiles leaking over his bed during the Monsoon but minded very much that Mamá got soaked as well.  Mamá should be wearing filmy chiffon with a folding fan in one hand to cool her cheeks.

    Papá was a brave and handsome man with a droopy moustache who’d died in the Revolution.  So it was up to Joaquin now to take care of Mamá.  He was learning the craft of carpentry, like Papá before him.  But he had a Big Dream too, the same Big Dream that Papá once had.  Joaquin dreamt of making his name as a photographer and earning lots of money, so he could give Mamá a better life in the city.

    Papá had scrimped and saved to buy an expensive German camera because only good pictures would do.  With its steel frame and leather bellows, you’d think it a comical camera these days, but Joaquin felt like a proper photographer already when he carried it into the desert on Papá’s old bike.  Some day soon he’d take a picture so amazing he’d be famous.   

    Of course, you could wander the desert your whole life through and never find such a shot.  But Joaquin knew exactly what he was looking for, and where in the desert he might find it…

    It was a dangerous mission for sure.  But Joaquin had inherited more from Papá than his camera, his bicycle and his Big Dream; he’d inherited Papá’s brave spirit too.  Joaquin was determined to take the first ever photograph of Aguila Gigante – the legendary Giant Eagle.

 

***

 

In the northern part of the desert, rising high, was a red rock butte called Pancho’s Hat.  This was where the skinny boy in a sombrero was heading on an old sit-up-and-beg bicycle with clanking chain.  A camera case was slung across his back. 

    Pedalling steadily in second gear, Joaquin was careful to avoid the prickly pear cacti.

    He had a puncture repair kit in his saddlebag along with tools, a wrapped chicken leg with peppers, a powerful catapult and a glass jar with perforated lid for collecting small reptiles.  But this would be a bad place to have his tyres popped by the prickly pear; the very worst place to stop and carry out repairs.  This was la Zona de la Muerte – the Death Zone.

    Hidden in every crevice were venomous scorpions and snakes and tarantulas.  Larger predators prowled the underbrush.  And a bird as black as pitch, a bird of vast wingspan with the most terrible talons and hooked bill, hunted from the sky above – Aguila Gigante.

    Only last month an elderly traveller had been plucked from his mule’s back and carried off by a Giant Eagle; carried off to its eyrie high on Pancho’s Hat and fed to its monstrous chicks.  So claimed the nomads of the desert anyway.

    The heat was ferocious and the desert shimmered before Joaquin’s sweat-stung eyes.  His brain boiled beneath his sombrero.  Yet still he kept going, forcing the pedals round, chain clanking.  He feared the clutch of giant talons on his bony shoulders.

 

 

At midday the sky turned purple and a rumble of thunder sounded from somewhere beyond the mountains.  Joaquin took a swig from his water bottle and wobbled to a halt, curiosity overcoming fear.  There was something lodged between the twin-trunks of an ancient juniper tree.  What could it be?

    Gingerly he parted the tangle of foliage and berries.  It was a book!  An old calf-bound volume with gilt lettering on the spine.  He let out a whoop of glee for it was that classic of Spanish literature Don Quixote by Cervantes.  Maybe it had lain there abandoned for a century or more?

    Too late it occurred to Joaquin that his whoop had been virtually a “come-and-get-me” cry to all the savage beasts of la Zona de la Muerte.  He had to get away…

    He grabbed the book from between the twin-trunks and recoiled with a shriek as a dozen bug-eyed lizards swarmed up his arm. 

    They were only tiny creatures, though – banded geckos.  And with a swipe of his sombrero, Joaquin scooped one for the jar, to keep as a pet.

    Something howled in the underbrush.  Then came another flash of lightning, another clap of thunder: the storm was coming his way.

    Prisa, prisa, thought Joaquin – hurry, hurry…

    And he would have jumped back on Papá’s bike had it not been for the rattle…

    A scaly serpent was coiling sinuously between the spoked wheels with a chicken leg in its mouth.  It was a rattlesnake, a large diamondback rattler, and it had dragged Joaquin’s lunch from the saddlebag.

    But now, dropping the chicken leg, the snake reared up in a tight twist, the rattle at the end of its tail vibrating madly.  The small eyes in its small head were fixed on Joaquin, its forked tongue flicking in and out of its mouth, between deadly fangs.  The boy was paralysed with terror as the rattler made ready to strike. 

    Poor Mamá, how would she cope without him?

    That was the moment when, with yips and yaps, the coyotes had attacked, two of them, like small yellowish wolves.

    They took the rattler from behind in a frenzy of snapping jaws.  And then they were gone!  They’d turned tail, whimpering, and bolted back into the wilderness, one with the thrashing snake still between its teeth, the other carrying the chicken leg. 

    Joaquin was stunned.  He’d been sure that after finishing off the rattler, the coyotes would turn on him.  Something had spooked them, obviously.  Something had spooked them badly…

 

 

Mulberry clouds were thickening around the top of Pancho’s Hat and there was a stuffy, electric feel to the air.  Heart thumping, Joaquin surveyed the darkening desert…nothing.

    Nothing he could see anyway…

    But Joaquin was alert in every fibre, his life depending on it.  And yes, surely there was the sound of stealthy movement?  And a sharpening of the odour of the creosote bushes?  Something was creeping through the creosote towards him, something big and powerful and hungry…

    Slowly, very slowly, Joaquin reached for the catapult in his saddlebag.  He slotted a stone into the pouch and drew it back as far as the elastic would stretch.  Vamos, vamos, he thought, Come on, come on, willing the beast to break cover.

    But he was wrong.  The growl came from fifty paces to his right, not from the creosote thicket. 

    Joaquin swung the catapult round as the mountain lion began to sprint.  He steadied his aim, fired, and missed.

    A thunderclap stopped the lion in its tracks just long enough for Joaquin to reload the catapult and fire again…

    Another miss, almost.  The stone clipped the big cat’s ear, and with a roar of injured pride it veered away towards the red rock butte.

 

 

He was alive anyway and thanked the Lord for that.  After the rattler, the coyotes and the mountain lion, it was a miracle.

    As for his Big Dream…maybe that was all it was: a dream.  As for Giant Eagles…maybe it was all made up, a tale of the desert nomads, local folklore, nothing more.  Oh well, he had that wonderful book, Don Quixote.  And the bug-eyed gecko, of course.  He’d call his gecko Cervantes after the great author.  He’d become a carpenter of skill like Papá.  He’d never be rich but the pesos he earned would suffice.  He’d do his best for Mamá.

    A drop of rain wet his cheek.  The noontime desert was dark and stale beneath the press of clouds.  Thunder rumbled. 

    More drops: they were plopping down on his sombrero and smacking the fat spiny pads of the prickly pear.  Time to go.

    Joaquin mounted Papá’s old bike.  The chain clanked reassuringly.

    Then he found himself scrabbling in the sand, witless with fear.  He’d fallen off.

    Joaquin had fallen off the bike because of a call from aloft, the like of which he’d never heard before in his life: a low, soft, crooning call of terrible quivering power – a call he recognised instinctively…

    And there it was, hovering in the overcast on wings of vast span, the man-eating eagle of legend, the cruellest bird in the world, black as pitch – Aguila Gigante.

    He snatched the camera from its case but had no time to take proper aim before the Giant Eagle swooped.  The down-rush of air knocked him sideways as the shutter-release clicked under his thumb.  Then C-R-A-C-K, the world vanished in a flash of searing blue light.

    Joaquin came to groggily as the juniper tree blazed in the rain.  Of Aguila Gigante, there was no sign, save for three black tail feathers in the prickly pear, each as long as the boy was tall.

 

***

 

Years ago, before the Revolution, Papá had built a lean-to on the side of the old adobe house.  He’d equipped it as a darkroom.  And here it was, that evening, that Joaquin developed his photograph. 

    Rain drummed on the tin roof and dripped down his neck.  He had only a dim red lamp for illumination in the cobwebby darkness.  Yet surely he was glowing too, glowing with the blood-rush of his thudding heart as the black-and-white image emerged in the developing tray.

    Dios Mío! He thought: Oh my God!

    Joaquin felt dizzy.  It was truly a shot in a million.  A shot exceeding the wildest hopes of his Big Dream.  For there was Aguila Gigante, caught in mid-swoop, steely talons outstretched and eyes ablaze with the certainty of a kill.  And there, lancing through the tail of the Giant Eagle to strike the juniper below, was a blinding, zigzagging thunderbolt.

    “Mamá, ay Mamá,” he called hoarsely, tripping over the step, “deberán llevar gasa!”

    “Mamá, oh Mamá, you shall wear chiffon!”

 

– THE END –

 

© Copyright Paul Beech 2013

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2 Comments
  1. Maureen Weldon permalink

    My granddaughter Elisha and me have just read this amazing children’s story Aguila Gigante by Paul Beech. We are both enchanted by it. I feel it is both a story for children and adults because I loved it too. I also feel this story must be published.

    from,

    Maureen Weldon and Elisha Mosley

    • Dear Maureen and Elisha,

      I’m so thrilled you like ‘Aguila Gigante’ and see it as a story for adults as well as children.

      You might remember, Maureen, that I read the opening scenes at Christmas BLAZE, Hartford Hall, on 14th December 2011. I’d never been to Mexico whereas you had, so your kind remarks fairly set me aglow. You read ‘The Day of The Dead’, also set in Mexico, a beautiful poem which I’ve felt drawn to re-read many times since.

      Perhaps I’d better look for a publisher now.

      Thank you, both of you, for making my day.

      Yours,

      Paul

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