The fire started in the north and tracked down through the dry desert succulents. Inside the crumbling adobe church, the air was cool, and smoke trickled through a hole above where the altar had been.
“Do you think he’ll find us here?” the girl asked.
“I’m sure,” said her older sister, who was not at all sure.
They waited, huddled in the corner, as the air grew heavier and heavier. The sky first turned a fiery orange and then filled with red smoke that obscured the outline of the adobe ruins of the Old Spanish church. Dust coated the girls’ eyelashes.
“Can I pray?” asked the younger sister. The older sister agreed, and they got on their knees on the dusty ground and began to recite an old prayer their grandfather said with them before bedtime that began with Dios te salve, María.
They were on their twelfth recitation when they heard a scratching at the wooden door. The older sister opened the door, and a javelina smelling of scorched fur was standing at the doorway. They let the javelina in and then returned to praying.
Dios te salve, María.
The fire was so close the roar could be heard through the walls. The left wooden bell tower ignited and then crumbled in a shower of sparks. Smoke poured through a hole where it had previously perched, igniting the vigas. Outside, the yucca reached up towards the sky with their arms inflamed, like sinners reaching upward from perdition. The girls huddled closer and continue to pray.
Y el verbo de Dios se hizo carne y habitó entre nosotros.
“Look,” said the little girl suddenly, pointing at the javelina, who was burrowing with its snout into the dusty ground to reveal the outline of a hatch. They lifted the hatch, revealing a long-forgotten passageway beneath the church.
The two sisters descended into the desert earth as the flames began to lap down adobe walls. A curl of smoke drifted over ground where the kneeling girls had left faint imprints in the ash.