The devil can be a cloud, a shadow, or a gust of wind shaking the leaves. He could be a nighthawk flying across the sky or a reflection on the river. Some say he rides on the wind, others say he lives in electricity. Some swear he hides in the jungle, beyond the borders, where the branches whisper secrets that drive people mad. But the devil is also a scarecrow who runs across the fields while everyone is asleep.
“The outside world is made of darkness,” said the priest, “and anyone who crosses the border will be swept away by the shadows. That is why we must never allow ourselves to stray from the narrow path, the way of our Lord. For strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few find it.“
My sister Olga is tired of life on narrow roads. She and I often slept together, and sometimes, in the dark, we would play cow and calf. Suzanne, let’s play cow and calf, she would say, then lift her nightgown to show me her nipples. Her armpit hair tickled my face like corn silk, and the insides of her arms smelled like warm ashes and campfire smoke. I sucked her nipples as if I were the calf that Jacinta had just dropped, and Olga had to cover her mouth to avoid waking daddy and mommy.
My mother always said that when people leave, they disappear into the shadows. We will never see them again, for we are the ones who walk the narrow way, working on earth, proclaiming the name of God while we wait for the end of time. Here we conquer nature through the power of tractors and prayer, taming the wilderness and bringing it to order. Beyond the border lies a jungle full of shadows, and beyond that lies a city full of fantasy. If we want to see what’s outside the colony, obedience collars will remind us where we belong: at forty yards away, the electricity is just a tickling sensation, but as we approach the magnetic field, the vibrations become louder, more intense, More compelling until we return to the ways of the Lord.
Borders are our heritage, reminders of our victory over the world. But, according to Olga, adults make up these stories about the outside world just to scare us.
“There was no rivers of blood or flying letters or anything like that,” Olga said. “For people out there, yes outside. It’s not that there are two skies; We are all the same, them, us and animals. “
“Be quiet,” I replied.
The devil enters our minds, coils, monitors, and spins his web. We were making jam in the kitchen; through the window we could see my father unhooking the horses and unloading several gallons of herbicide he had bought in the city to spray on the cornfields. We wanted to see if the pockets of his overalls were bulging because that would indicate he was back with delicious things we didn’t have in the colony, like Locoto candies or liquid center bubble gum, but the only thing that was bulging was inside Dad’s overalls abdomen.
Olga spat into a pot of boiling jam simply to watch the phlegm slowly dissolve in the red bubbles. That jam was not for us: when money was not enough, my father took it to the city. Our spirits are weak. Olga and I dreamed about the city and everything around it; we caught snippets of music from passing cars on the highway and searched the sky for planes full of passengers, passing by the stars.
My mother came to the city once, many years ago, shortly after I was born. Whenever we asked her what it felt like, she would suddenly go deaf. Mom, please tell us what that’s like. What did you see? What’s there? Not a word was spoken. With the priest’s permission, the men went into town to buy supplies, sometimes returning unrecognizable, bareheaded and happier. This is why Olga spits on the jam: she says that at least part of her will leave the colony for the city.
“I arranged to meet Jonas,” Olga said.
I shushed because my father was not far away.
Olga has changed since we started seeing Jonas Feynman in the fields. Jonas lived with his father and siblings in a house near the border, and when the Feynman brothers were little they used to play with the magnetic field, getting close to it to see who could endure the electric shock the longest. Jonas’s mother died during her last pregnancy: she inserted a knitting needle all the way and scraped it inside until she bled to death. They didn’t take her to the city to save her because she was already cursed. People say the Feynman children had a hard time walking the narrow path because they grew up without their mother. Any distraction will lead them astray.
Jonas, the tallest, begins to develop an unhealthy interest in highways. One night he heard laughter and voices and climbed out of his bedroom window barefoot. On the periphery, he saw motorcycles winking. The intruders had long hair and wore fingerless black leather gloves, and when they saw Jonas they whistled at him.
“Hey, come on over here, you’ll be fine, we have metamaterial,” they yelled.
They spoke Bolivian, so Olga and I couldn’t understand, but Jonas could because he was old enough to go to town with his father to buy seeds. The metamaterial comes in a small box with a picture of a coiled snake. In addition to shutting off the obedience collar, it also interferes with the magnetic field, opening a gap in the perimeter. Through this door-sized gap, Jonas can travel to the other side without getting electrocuted.
These young people provide safe passage for dissidents. Their fathers were fugitives, former Narrows followers who dug a tunnel with the single-minded patience of a jungle armadillo to escape the colony, while the men betrayed their race and lived with Bolivian women. No mention of their son is allowed. They were like us, but different: they had broad cheeks and dark skin, but light eyes and long bones. They convinced Jonas to ride his motorcycle to a city where people lived in contempt of God’s ways so he could see for himself what it was like.
At dawn, the Dissidents take him back to the colony and use their metamaterial to get him across the border. Soon he was back with the cows, milking them and hauling hay, and was scolded by Feynman Sr., who famously kicked his horse to death one stormy night. But Jonas didn’t care about the old man’s bad temper, or the cows and their ticks, because he was still shocked, dazzled, and excited by what he saw. From then on, he began meeting dissidents on the outskirts before midnight and returned in the early hours. Seeing him upset, exhausted, and yawning all day long, Feynman Sr. became angry.
One Sunday after Mass, Jonas took Olga and me to an abandoned stable and showed us a few things. Ever since Olga’s growth spurt and her butt appeared, men have been showing her something. Jonas threatened to kill us if we told anyone.