No one sees me. They walk right by me and don’t even know I am here. I’m invisible. But that’s all going to change today. The woman who has agreed to marry me will be here soon. The world will finally know someone cares about me. It was worth all my savings to bring her across the border. I’m tired of being alone. Being nobody.
I’m getting married. I won’t be invisible anymore—at least she’ll see me.
Maria Martinez lay flat on the dust-covered wooden planks, her right eye pressed against the hole in the floor of the abandoned house. Pedro won’t find me here. I’ll win this time.
A sneeze welled up in Maria, and she fought to stop it. She couldn’t. Quickly she looked through the small opening to make sure Pedro hadn’t come and heard her. Her older brother al-ways thought he could do everything better than her. Not this time. He’d never think to look here. He’d think she was too afraid to hide here. A rattling behind her sent a shot of fear through her. She went still. Her lungs held her breath and wouldn’t let go.
There’s no such thing as ghosts. He just told me that to scare me. I’m not a baby. I’m eight.
Her words fueled her courage, and she popped up to look over her shoulder. Nothing. Just the wind blowing through the broken window. Maria sank to the floor in relief and took up her post again. Watching through the hole. If Pedro came into the house, she’d be ready to hide. He was not going to find her. For once, she would have the last laugh. He was just two years older, but the way he acted, you’d think he was Papa.
Another sound caught her attention. Down below. Footsteps. She started to hop up and scramble to her hiding place nearby, but a gruff, deep male voice stopped her. Not Pedro. Who?
With her eye glued to the hole again, she waited to see who it was. Another voice—a woman’s—answered the man, then she laughed. A funny laugh—like Pedro when he made fun of her.
“Dumb. Evil eye,” the woman taunted in Spanish.
The man raised his voice, speaking in the same language so fast Maria had a hard time keeping up. Mama insisted on only speaking English at home. Now she wished she was better at Spanish. But she heard some words—the ones he slowed and emphasized, repeating several times in a louder voice a few cuss words that got Papa in trouble if he said them at home. The deep gruff voice ended with, “You will pay.”
The woman laughed again, but the sound died suddenly. “What are you doing?” she said in Spanish.
Maria strained to see the two people. The lady moved into her line of sight as she stepped back, shaking her head, her long brown hair swirling in the air. Maria glimpsed the top of a tan cowboy hat that hid the man’s face from her.
The beautiful lady held up her hands. “No!”
The fear in that one word chilled Maria.
Before she could think of what to do, a gunshot, like she’d heard on TV, blasted the qui-et. The lady jerked back. She glanced down at her chest, then up, remaining upright for a few heartbeats before crumbling to the floor.
Maria froze. Her mind blanked.
The man came closer to the still lady on the floor, her unseeing dark eyes staring right at Maria, pinning her against the wooden planks. She saw the gun as he lifted his arm and aimed it at the woman. He shot her in the stomach then the forehead.
The man must have whirled away. Suddenly he wasn’t in her line of vision. She bolted to her feet as the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs echoed down the hallway.
Terror locked a vise about Maria and held her in place.
Then her gaze latched onto her hiding place—one she’d found when she’d first come to the house. She’d laughed out loud that her brother would never find her there. Now she wasn’t so sure it was perfect.
But the approaching footfalls prodded her into action. She had no other choice. She clambered toward the couch as quietly as she could. She ripped the seat cushion off and squeezed herself into the small place someone must have used before. The pounding of her heartbeat in her ears drowned out the sound of his footsteps.
The man threw open a door at the end of the hall. The slam of it against the wall startled Maria as she set the cushion over her like a shield a knight used in a movie she’d seen. When he’d stormed a castle, hundreds of arrows rained down on him. He had survived. Could she?
The scent of mold and dust threatened to set off her sneezing. She held her hand over her mouth and nose praying that would stop her from making any sound.
As the man’s footsteps came nearer, her heartbeat reverberated against her skull, again overriding all other sounds. Surely he could hear it. Find her.
Please, Lord, help me. Mama said You protect children.
But not her prayers or her fear calmed her thundering heartbeats. The racket grew louder inside her chest and clamored in her ears. Her head spun. She uncovered her mouth to try and breathe deeply. She couldn’t get enough air.
The door opened, crashing against the wall.
She flinched, hoping the seat cushion hadn’t moved.
Please. Please, Lord. I’ll be good.
The footsteps approached the center of the room.
Lightheaded, Maria closed her eyes as if that would hide her from the bad man. Some-thing scurried over her leg. Something big. A rat? The urge to flee her hiding place robbed her of any thoughts. She curled herself into the tightest ball she could and prayed, her chest rising and falling so rapidly. The darkness continued to swirl behind her closed eyelids.
An eternity passed. A brush of whiskers reinforced her fright. She tensed, expecting any second the cushion being plucked off her hiding place or sharp teeth sinking into her. A warm gush between her legs and the odor of pee heightened her terror. He would smell it and . . .
I’m going to die. Mama . . .