War By Candlelight

Stories

by Daniel Alarcon

War By Candlelight

Hardcover, 189 pages, Harpercollins, List Price: $23.95 | purchase

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Book Summary

Nine short stories about people who have been displaced by war or economic crises take readers from the jungles and the streets of Lima, Peru, to the sites of dangerous border crossings, and to intimate New York apartments.

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NPR stories about War By Candlelight

Daniel Alarcon

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Excerpt: War By Candlelight

War By Candlelight

War by Candlelight

Stories


HarperCollins

ISBN: 0-06-059478-0

Chapter One

Flood

I was fourteen when the lagoon spilled again. It was up in the mountains, at the far edges of our district. Like everything beautiful around here, no one had ever seen it. There was no rain, only thick clouds to announce the coming flood. Then the water came running down the avenue, pavement glistening, taking trash and rock and mud with it through the city and toward the sea. It was the first flood since Lucas had been sent to the University, a year into a five-year bid for assault. The neighborhood went dark and we ran to the avenue to see it: a kind of miracle, a ribbon of gleaming water where the street should have been. A few old cars were lined up, their headlights shining. Street mutts raced around us, barking frantically at the water and the people and the circus of it. Everyone was out, even the gangsters, everyone barefoot and shirtless, moving earth with their hands, forming a dike of mud and rock to keep the water out. Across the avenue those kids from Siglo XX stared at us like they wanted something. They worked on their street and we worked on ours.

"Watch them," Renán said. He was my best friend, Lucas's younger brother. Over in Siglo XX they still had light. I could taste how much I hated them, like blood in my mouth. I would've liked to burn their whole neighborhood down. They had no respect for us without Lucas. They'd beat you with sticks and pipes. They'd shove sand in your mouth and make you sing the national anthem. The week before, Siglo XX had caught Renán waiting for a bus on the wrong side of the street. They'd taken his ball cap and his kicks, left his eye purple and swollen enough to squint through.

Buses grunted up the hill against the tide, honking violently. The men moved wooden boards and armloads of bricks and sandbags, but the water kept coming. Our power came on, a procession of lights dotting the long, sinking slope toward the city. Everyone stopped for a moment and listened to the humming water. The oily skin of the avenue shone orange, and someone raised a cheer.

In the half-light, Renán said he saw one of the kids that got him. He had just the one good eye to see through. "Are you sure?" I asked.

They were just silhouettes. The flood lapped at our ankles, and the work was fierce. Renán was gritting his teeth. He had a rock in his hand. "Hold it," he said.

I felt its weight and passed it to Chochó. We all agreed it was a good rock.

Renán threw it high over the avenue. We watched it disappear, Renán whistling the sinking sound of a bomb falling from the sky. We laughed and didn't see it land.

Then Siglo XX tore across the avenue, a half dozen of them. They were badass kids. They went straight for our dike and wrecked it. It was a suicide mission. Our old men were beating them, then the gangsters too. Arms flailed in the dim lights, Siglo XX struggling to break free. Then their whole neighborhood came and then ours and we fell into the thick fight of it, that inexplicable rush, that drug. We spilled onto the avenue and fought like men, side by side with our fathers and our brothers against their fathers and their brothers. It was a carnival. My hands moved in closed fists and I was in awe of them. I pounded a kid while Chochó held him down. Renán swung his arms like helicopter blades, grinning the whole time, manic. We took some hits and gave some and swore inside we lived for this. If Lucas could have seen us! The water spilled over our broken dike but we didn't care. We couldn't care. We were blind with happiness.

We called it the University because it's where you went when you finished high school. There were two kinds of prisoners there: terrorists and delinquents. The terrucos answered to clandestine communiqués and strange ideologies. They gathered in the yard each morning and did military stretches. They sang war songs all day and heckled the young guards. The war was more than ten years old. When news came of a successful attack somewhere in the city, they celebrated.

Lucas was more of a delinquent and so behaved in ways that were easier to comprehend. A kid from Siglo XX caught a bad one and someone said they saw Lucas running across the avenue back to our street. That was enough for five years. He hadn't even killed anyone. They lightened his sentence since he'd been in the army. Before he went in, he made us promise we'd join up when we were old enough. "Best thing I ever did," he said. We spoke idly of things we'd do when he got out, but our street was empty without him. People called us Diablos Jr. because we were just kids. Without Lucas, the gangsters hardly acknowledged us, except to run packages downtown, but that was only occasionally ...

(Continues...)




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