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Whether it's a snowy trip to Scotland, flying over the desert or racing away from nefarious agents, there's a series for you. 


Into Dust - The Thunderbird Chronicles

Chapter One


A pyramid peeked out from the Yucatan jungle under the light of a full moon. An ancient warrior clenched a blade in his teeth as he crept up the pyramid steps where, at the top, a masked woman in black waited.  Zara Zancón.

Dressed head to toe in black, she unsheathed her sword and raged against the warrior with all her might, sending him spiraling down the pyramid. ¡ZAS! ¡PUM! ¡TAN TÁN!

Zancón turned to see another warrior running toward her, his silver sword gleaming in the moonlight. They sparred. He was a good fighter but no match for her. With a shove, she sent him flying down the pyramid, screaming for mercy. She paused a moment to catch her breath but soon found another warrior challenging her. He was a masked swordsman: stronger, bolder, and tougher than the others.

He drew his sword. She spun and lunged – plunging the sword into his side. He paused panting, then regained strength and tore after her. In a few quick moves, he had pushed her back, teetering over the edge of the pyramid. She looked down. The village below looked tiny. Just as he was ready to push her over the edge, blue and red lights from above descended upon her. Flitting and dancing, they surrounded her until she was glowing with their light. Filled with their energy, she raged after him with all her might. ¡ZAS! Her sword sparkled in the moonlight as she screamed and drew close enough to strike – She could go for his arm – his chest – his throat… Instead, she went for his mask.

He turned, revealing his face.  Zara’s sword slipped from her hand as she recognized her father. 

“You are Zarco Zancón?”

“This was all part of your training,” said Zarco. “You beat me. Now I must die and you must wear the mask.”


The unmasked Zarco Zancón gasped, bleeding in his daughter’s arms. Finally his light eyes stared up into the night sky. His sword dropped to the ground, and he stopped breathing.


I sat hunched over a comic book at the old fashioned soda fountain counter in my father’s convenience store. The comic showed a masked avenger – the picture on the cover looked like an Aztec or Mayan rip-off of Zorro. I zipped through the pages as my mother, Reyna, breezed through the door carrying a crate of oranges. She set down the oranges and then casually put an El Paso real estate brochure on the counter beside my father, Diego, who was counting cash from the register. 

“There’s a bargain not far from Estela and Rogelio’s place,” she said. “Take a look, Diego.”

 I tore myself away from the comic and looked at the brochure – the listing was circled in red.

My dad paused to check out the brochure. He smiled at her. “That’s a bargain?”

 I could feel my stomach begin to churn in knots. Mom was always trying to convince my dad to move. We lived in a border town. In case you haven’t read the papers or watched the news ever, the U.S./Mexico border is not the greatest place to grow up. Still, it was home. And I didn’t want to move. Para nada.

“Great schools,” my mom replied. “And there’s a community pool.” She headed back toward our apartment upstairs and I slipped back into the world of my comics where a tearful Zara gently lay down her father. 


Zara Zancón put on her fathers’ mask, stood, and raised his sword. Lightning flashed over the pyramid. “May the spirits of my ancestors bring me power and protection for my beloved país de México,” declared Zara. An incredible bolt of lightning struck her. She glowed. The blade glimmered as she waved it above her majestically.

“I shall not forsake you, Father!” Zara cried, as she wielded her sword on top of the pyramid.


When I reached the words “The End” I closed the book, misty-eyed. Yeah, it was a little cheesy but it was a Zorro rip-off, it was gonna be cheesy. Gradually I allowed myself to drift into the real world again. My father, Diego, was painting. He gazed out the window at the distant mountains before returning to mix. He always painted at the store because he wanted to keep busy when there weren’t customers. He had been teaching me for the past few years.

“Good comic book, Janey?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “I love the lightning and the pyramids.”

“I’ll have to check it out.”

I looked up at his painting. “Isn’t that the canyon out on 85 west?”

My dad responded a little too quickly, “No— ”

“It sure looks like it...”

“Well, it’s not,” my father said firmly. He could be really stubborn and always over the strangest things. It was almost like he was defensive or hiding something. He had owned the convenience store for years – maybe all the clientele lately made him defensive. This town had certainly seen better days. When my parents first moved here, things hadn’t been so bad. the South American cartels had figured out that the US/Mexican border was a big deal and worth fighting for, and we were paying the price. Our town was a mess. I’d call it a joke, but it just isn’t funny. We were scared, and we were scared often.

Dad glanced up at the TV newscaster standing on a busy city street. “Another attempted assassination today, this time a mayoral candidate,” she reported. “An unidentified masked man shoved the candidate out of harm’s way, taking a bullet for him. The group that calls itself the Pistoleros have declared war on the masked vigilante that uses the comic name ‘Zarco Zancón’ and seems to have uncovered some new information they want to keep secret.”

They showed the clip again: the vigilante, an older man with a slightly stocky build wearing a Zorro-type mask and hat, swung onto the speech platform and shoved the shocked mayoral candidate out of the way. Automatic weapons sprayed, and the vigilante dropped to the ground. The vigilante pulled himself up, holding his shoulder as he disappeared into the crowded city streets.

“He’s hurt,” I said, watching him run.

“He’s just a vigilante. Probably some crazy guy. He’ll live,” said my father. He flipped the channel. As he did, it became clear that there was a large bandage underneath his sleeve. “Too much bad news. It’s depressing. You’ve got to concentrate on what’s good. Always remember that, Janey.”

I grabbed another comic – last week’s issue – and as I browsed through the pages, I noticed something interesting. Like the vigilante using his name, the comic book Zarco Zancón had also discovered something new. As Zancón followed the guy he thought was the leader of the cartels – El Relámpago, Lightning – into his lair, he realized that El Relámpago wasn’t running the show at all. The true leader of the evil empire was some billionaire real estate mogul living in the US white guy they were calling Pelón – baldy.

Could there be an American Pelón in real life? This wasn’t connected to what the vigilante on TV was talking about, was it? He just called himself Zarco Zancón because … well … there’s the comic. Right? Before I could wrap my head around it all, I get a little jumpy sometimes with all the stuff going on around our town lately, but when I looked out the window I could see it was probably the car at the stoplight backfiring.

Outside the convenience store, heavily armed men lurked in the streets. Breaking out of the pack was twenty-five year old lean and mean Oscar Martinez, my cousin. He was wearing jeans, a black t-shirt, and a new tattoo on his arm: from the Mexican flag, the eagle attacking the serpent on a cactus. Great. At least he’s patriotic.

Oscar strolled through the convenience store door like he owned the place. He tucked his gun in the back of his pants, under his shirt and smiled at my dad, who did not smile back.

“Tio Diego, ¿qué pasa?” said Oscar.

“Afternoon, Oscar,” replied my dad, not looking up.

“Listen, man, I’ve got this bag I’m just gonna leave here and then a friend of mine’s gonna stop by and—”

My dad interrupted him. “No.”

“What? It just sits here, right behind the counter for an hour or two. No big deal. I know you have poker night with those—”

Dad interrupted him again, with an edge to his voice I didn’t usually hear.

“Not in my store,” he said, firmly.

“Whatever, man. Fine,” said Oscar. He ambled through the store aisles and back to the cooler area. He grabbed a tall bottle of Coke and my fourteen-year-old brother, Carlitos.

“Órale, carnal. You’re gettin’ bigger and bigger every day.,'' Oscar gave a shoulder handshake/hug.

“Hey, Oscar,” replied Carlitos.

“Look at those biceps! You been working out?”

“Yeah,” Carlitos was proud but tried to be nonchalant. He was eyeing Oscar’s new tattoo.

“Yeah. Someday you’re gonna start hanging with me and my homeboys.”

“Carlitos?” Dad interrupted. “Go get started on your homework.”

“I can help him,” responded Oscar.

“That’s okay, Oscar,” said Dad

“No, really, I can—”

Dad responded evenly. “That’s. Okay. Oscar.”

“Órale. Just trying to be family.”

Carlitos headed inside to the apartment above the store. As Oscar passed by the soda fountain he snatched my comic book.

“Hey!” I yelled.

Oscar smacked me on the head with the comic twice.

“Two for flinching,” he smirked.

“Pendejo,” I muttered under my breath as Oscar dropped the comic back on the counter, gave a grand wave and out the door.

“Stay out of trouble,” called Dad.

Oscar stopped in the doorway and turned to my dad, locking eyes with him. Then Oscar grabbed him by the shoulder in a tighter-than-necessary hug. Dad tried not to wince but it was clear he was in pain. Oscar raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.

“You all right, viejo?” he asked innocently.

“I’m fine,” Dad tried not to wince.

Oscar looked at Dad’s shoulder. There was red seeping through where Oscar had hugged him. “You musta got some paint on your shirt, ” he said smugly. Oscar headed for the doors but nodded toward the TV in the corner, where another newscaster was talking about the vigilante.

“You’re the one best be worrying about troubles,” warned Oscar.

“There’s a lot of trouble out there,” said Dad, eyeing the news.

Oscar waved again, dismissively, and headed out the door. My father quickly pulled a jacket over his bloodstained shirt.

Through the window of the convenience store, I could see a lanky cowboy outside — a few years older than me. He was rugged, with messy dark hair and green-gray eyes. My heart skipped a beat for a second and I couldn’t stop staring. He was puro vaquero and absolutely guapo. Just my type — in my dreams, that is. He tipped his hat and grinned. He was looking straight at me! Not sure what else to do, I buried my nose in my comic book. I could feel the heat rising on my cheeks as my dad chuckled.

“A little old, m’ija,” he teased.

“I wasn’t —”

But my dad interrupted. “And you’re a little young,” he added.

Then the gangsters aimed their automatic weapons at the lanky cowboy and Oscar. Calmly they nodded and, with their hands raised, they stepped into the gangsters’ crappy white Camaro. Before I could react, my dad swiftly went to the door and turned around the sign so that it read “CERRADO.”

“I’m going to close up early, Janey. It’s been a long day,” he said.

I knew why he was closing up. A convenience store wasn’t the safest business, and it had been getting worse over the past few years as the cartels had been over control of the town. Warring cartels need cigarettes and beer and jerky just like anyone else. Dad didn’t like the idea of having a drug war break out over the slushy machine. That also explained why there was yet another El Paso real estate brochure sitting on the counter.

I stood behind my father watching through a window as a police car slowed. The gangsters’ guns emerged. Dad yanked down the window bars and shades. “Come on,” he said, taking me by the hand and ushering me upstairs. This had happened before. I knew what was coming. We both did.
Upstairs in our apartment, my little brother, Carlitos, and I flipped on the TV. There wasn’t much on, so we settled for some classic cartoons. Mom and Dad spoke in hushed tones. Mom handed Dad some bandages but he waved her away.

“It was all over the news,” Mom warned.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Dad.

“Be careful, mi amor. These people find out what you’re up to, they’ll be after us next,” Mom looked nervous.


The sound of rapid gunfire muffled Dad’s words. Even though we knew why we were up there with the shades closed, usually we were just avoiding eye contact with the cartels –we didn’t want to be accused of spying on a drug deal or a business meeting. So, out of force of habit my mom automatically turned to us. “Kids, can you turn down the TV? I am sick of this shooting all day long.”
“It’s not the TV!” The color drained from Mom’s face as she realized of course, the gunshots were outside.

Dad shouted, “Get down!”

We all hit the floor. We waited a long few seconds as the rounds spewed from the guns. Ricocheting bullets, screams and shouts. Then silence. Finally Mom gingerly slid the curtains open to reveal a police officer lying dead in the street.

“Oh my GOD!” she exclaimed, and snapped the curtains shut.

“What? What happened?” asked Carlitos, trying to get back up, but Dad pushed him back down. We stayed on the floor as more gunshots erupted. I clutched my father’s arm. Carlitos bopped up, trying to look out the window.

“I want to see!” he pleaded, as Mom shoved him back down and whispered, “Quiet. Stay down.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Who’d they shoot?”

Mom fought back tears. “Diego, we’ve got to sell the damned store and get out of here!”

“You know I can’t sell the store,” said Dad.

“What happened? Is someone dead?” asked Carlitos.

“Wasn’t just in the store this afternoon? Why would he come back?” I asked.

“Shh,” said Dad.

“Tenth policeman this month,” said Carlitos.

“Actually, it’s eleven,” I corrected.

Tires squealed outside and Mom turned to Dad. “My sister says she can get us jobs in El Paso. You don’t need to work in a convenience store like some—”

“Like some what?” Dad, raising his voice.

“Never mind. I just want to raise my children somewhere safe,” said Mom.

“You think I don’t? Your sister’s always talking about El Paso like it’s the Promised Land. It’s not all that.”

“It’s different on the other side. People aren’t as afraid,” said Mom quietly.

Finally it was quiet. The cars were gone, and the shots had stopped.

“Oscar’s a jerk. I don’t want to move,” I said.

“Nothing’s definite, Janey,” said my dad.

“It won’t get any better around here. Not when they’re paying off the police and assassinating anyone who wants to do something about it,” said Mom.

“There are other ways—” began Dad.

“Other ways are even more dangerous,” responded Mom.

“Zarco and Zara Zancón should swoop in and stop all the bad guys,” I said.

Mom looked at me with a pained expression. “This isn’t a comic book. This is real life,” she said. She gave my dad a pointed look and walked away.

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