Scott Russell Duncan
Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is senior editor at Somos en escrito Literary Magazine and Press and was editor on the first Chicano sci-fi anthology, El Porvenir, ¡Ya!, which was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In 2016 his story “How My Hide Got Color” won San Francisco Litquake’s Short Story Contest. His nonfiction piece “Mexican American Psycho is in Your Dreams” won first place in the 2019 Solstice Literary Magazine Annual Literary Contest. He is at work on a collection of short stories called Mexpocalyptic Tales. His novel, Old California Strikes Back, a memoir of growing up Native/Xicano-Anglo and a fantastic tour reclaiming the myths of Mexican California, will be published in 2023 through FlowerSong Press. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website www.scottrussellduncan.com.
Hope of El Rancho
Omar had a great time visiting his relatives at El Rancho. They chose to live closer to nature, even here. They ate shark, camped on the beach, and hiked mountains. They had a lot of horses and dogs and even a mostly-tame mountain lion. Not to mention the cattle. At night they sat around the fire, watched stars, and smoked mota. Some days were spent preparing meals for big parties and other days, something was in the fridge like magic. Every few days, Omar visited a nearby place everyone just called “The Town” for the pool hall and the girls. He’d climb through the window if he was out too late so he wouldn’t wake his tía and get lectured for smelling of alcohol and perfume. He’d lay happy in bed and listen to the crickets, lowing of the cows, and now and then, the coyotes.
“Hey, Omar, how did you do at school?” his cousin Marcos asked him.
“School? I haven’t finished. I’ll be heading back after this vacation.” Marcos stared right at him.
"Better get on that, man."
There was a big party. Everyone loved Omar. He felt he was their hopes and futures in a couple of ways. Young and alive. He was able to get out, go to school, and make the world a better place. Not many made it; they all wound up back here after accidents and ODs and just giving up, not to mention the viejos who seemed like they were always here. Omar was the one that would get a better deal for them all. He hugged his tias and little cousins goodbye. “I’ll be back,” he told everyone.
“We know,” they all said, “we’ll be waiting.”
“Good luck, mijo,” his abuelito said through tears, “I wish I could give you something to take back. Vaya con Dios.” Omar walked the road to the bus; it was a bit far down the mountain. He hadn’t studied as much on his break as he thought he would. No one else was heading back at this stop; no one much comes to this section of the world. The bus rolled up, he got on, and it logged him off back into himself.
Rolling back into his own self-suspended time for what seemed like an eternal moment, like having to sneeze or pulling moist gum. But with a pop, Omar was back in the watery pod. The voice informed, rattled. He felt like shit, worse than before, when he needed a break and decided to visit his familia. He wanted to sit up. Please remain still. In cases when the traveler has been gone 30 years, the effects of… —30 years?! Omar could only see his hands…too waterlogged and wrinkly to know how old. What about school? Why didn’t you tell me! With your current plan and settings, we do not send in alerts, so you are not disturbed while seeing relatives.
Omar knew they did everything they could to screw you, which is why he´d wanted to get away to El Rancho in the first place, but this had to be a malfunction. The pod water began to drain. Wait! Omar didn’t want to be old. Fuck school. Send me back! As your visit went overtime, you are now in arrears and must pay your balance before we can allow you in El Rancho again. Your belongings are in the box to the left of the pod.
Omar thought of the girls in town. He had promised he would come back. If he did, would he look like this? The pod cracked open. He stood up on his shaky legs. Even with the automatic treatments they felt unusual, not as strong. The box held his chanclas, now with cracked and flaking soles. His old hoody with the surfboard print seemed the same. Nothing changed. He still had to get a better deal for El Rancho. He was still their hope. It was just going to be harder to do, being old and having a debt to pay for all that time spent enjoying outside the world. Omar stared at the little flakes his chanclas left on the floor. El Rancho was the world he and his familia had failed to make.
Turn that shit off. I ain’t paying no more. The voice of the machine got louder: Even with the account deleted, your debt still must be paid, sir! Omar moved as fast as he could, his chanclas making loud flops on the floor with each step. I am the one who made it out, he kept telling himself. Soon he was.