Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
The following is an excerpt from Max Tomlinson's mystery novel, Who Sings to the Dead, which won first place in the "I’m Dying To Tell You" mystery contest for this year's San Mateo County Fair.
From p. 300, "Who Sings to the Dead"
1992—the Peruvian Andes, north of Huancayo
The village was asleep when the black Land Rover rumbled down the frozen dirt road. Leon Tenia was the first to wake up to the creaking of the 4x4’s heavy-duty suspension as the vehicle navigated the deep ruts. He had not slept through the night since the arrests at the university. Pulling on his trousers, the 21-year-old student brushed a strand of dark hair out of his narrow face and put on his glasses. He peered out the window of his mother’s hut. Headlight beams swept through the falling snow into the village square, lighting up the corrugated iron steeple of the humble church. The boxy vehicle came to a stop. The engine died. Headlights were doused, leaving a white fading imprint of the church as black-clad secret police sinchis got out of the Land Rover, pulling ski masks over their faces.
Leon’s heart pounded. A trickle of nervous sweat slipped down the small of his back. Someone at La Cantuta University must have betrayed him. Now the day that might not ever happen had actually begun. Hadn’t his comrades had always told him this is how it must end? Take as many as you can before you die, Senderista; then, embrace your death. Their passionate slogans were suddenly the words of madmen. Leon hurried into the hut’s single room, and took a lingering look at his mother’s small, delicate features before waking her; her sad little smile, even while sleeping. He would remember her this way if the sinchis caught and tortured him. But they wouldn’t, he told himself. Gently, Leon touched his mother’s shoulder. Her eyes opened, slowly, but fully awake. Outside, boots crunched through the snow up to the hut. Leon pointed a finger silently towards the thatched roof. His mother nodded in resignation, her eyes starting to glisten in the near darkness. She had warned Leon not to join The Shining Path but had held her tongue after he had taken the oath. He gave his mother a kiss, brushed away her silent tears, and whispered that he loved her—even though the sentiment ran contrary to party doctrine. He helped the small woman up into the rafters to the crawl space he had built for this day that might not happen. He watched the rope disappear up into darkness, then reminded his mother not to move or utter a word—no matter what the men did to him. In a hushed voice, she told him to run.
Leon took one last look up. His mother was well hidden. She would not pay the price for his recklessness. He dashed to the back of the hut, heaved open the window with a squeal, grabbed the machete leaning against the wall. He climbed out, sinking into half a meter of fresh snow. He plowed up the hill as two sinchis came around the hut from either side. He could hear the pounding on the front door of the hut, the shouting to ‘open up’. Leon summoned his strength and pushed on. He had grown up in these mountains. He would prevail.
A salvo of automatic pistol fire popped briefly, the sound of the shots dulled by the falling snow. A tiny piece of metal stung his lower back. Leon fell into frozen water and hung there, gasping. Oddly, he could not feel any pain.
Ten minutes later the Land Rover left the village of Mancopata with Leon Tenia bound and gagged in the back. One eye was swollen tightly shut. The pain he could not feel before was now the center of his being. He fought to remember his mother’s face.
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
"Who Sings to the Dead" is the second in a mystery/thriller series by Max Tomlinson, a San Francisco-based writer. The first book, SENDERO, earned a Kirkus starred review. To learn more about Tomlinson's work, visit maxtomlinson.wordpress.com.